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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
UN criticises Iraq poll warning
Man hoses down car after suicide bombing in al-Jamiya
Violence is still a regular occurrence in many parts of Iraq
The leader of the UN team organising Iraq's elections has criticised the US defence secretary for suggesting only a limited vote might take place.

Such speculation was unhelpful and ran the risk of making people feel excluded from the poll scheduled for January, Carlos Valenzuela told the BBC.

Donald Rumsfeld had raised the possibility that voting might not be held in areas worst hit by violence.

But a top state department official said voting must be open to all.

Richard Armitage, number two at the state department, told reporters he knew of no plans to exclude violent areas from the elections.

Any delay to the poll was ruled out by Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and US President George W Bush who had talks on Thursday.

The Iraqi leader also said he would seek an explanation from United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan about his attitude to Iraq's elections when they meet later on Friday.

We have a very tight timeframe, and we're sticking to it
Carlos Valenzuela
UN election organiser
In a recent BBC interview, Mr Annan appeared to express doubts about the poll.

"You cannot have credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are," he said.

Elections are seen a crucial part of the interim government's strategy to give Iraqis full control of their country and scale down the US-led military presence there.

Questioning legitimacy

Mr Valenzuela - who has helped organise elections in other countries emerging from conflict such as East Timor and Cambodia - said he was under no illusions about the challenges Iraq posed, but believed elections could be held.

Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi
Speaking to Congress, Allawi was upbeat about the situation at home
"The situation is very complicated, but we believe that it is feasible.

"We have a very tight timeframe, and we're sticking to it, and all the preparations are being done," he said.

He said the electoral commission organising the poll "has found so far that it hasn't been helpful that different people have been speculating whether certain parts of the country will be able or not to participate in the election and whether the elections will be legitimate or not... and [this speculation] might create more danger of people feeling excluded from the process."

The BBC's Karen Allen in Baghdad says many political commentators fear that an election involving only some of the population would fuel the insurgency still further.

Back in limelight

Mr Rumsfeld raised the possibility of partial elections publicly for the first time on Thursday in a session at the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three quarters or four fifths of the country but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," he said.

"Well, so be it, nothing is perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."

The BBC's Justin Webb, in Washington, says Mr Rumsfeld has been kept out of the limelight in recent months but now has returned with characteristic brio.

The BBC's Jake Lynch
"Many argue... (that) registering to vote and queuing at polling stations are likely to prove hazardous"


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