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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 November 2004, 04:31 GMT
Iraqi parties request poll delay
Election poster
Iraq's Shia leaders have been keen to ensure polls go ahead
A group of leading Iraqi political parties has called for the 30 January national elections to be delayed.

More than 15 groups - representing mostly Sunnis, Kurds and secular Iraqis - urged a six-month postponement.

They say clashes between US-led forces and insurgents in Sunni areas could keep many from voting.

Iraq's electoral commission has agreed to consider the request on Saturday - but both the Iraqi and US governments have voiced doubts about a date change.

Deputy Iraqi Prime Minister Barham Saleh told BBC News he was keen for the elections to be held as scheduled - although he added that this would be a challenge.

US President Bush, for his part, said he "would hope they would go forward in January".

Petition signed

Representatives of Iraq's Shia community, which accounts for about 60% of the population, have said they are keen to avoid any delay in holding elections.

Iyad Allawi (left) and Barham Saleh
Saleh (right) admits holding the elections will be a challenge

But the parties - which met at Mr Pachachi's home - say it is important that as many political organisations and voters as possible were able to participate in the election.

They made the call for the delay in a petition signed on Friday.

Also attending the meeting were three interim government cabinet ministers, along with a representative of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, reports said.

Mohsen Abdul Hamid, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said it was important the government did not initiate calls for a delay.

"The government can't talk about that," Abdul Hamid said, according to The Associated Press.

He added that Mr Allawi wanted the political parties "to agree among each other and to talk to the United Nations so nobody would think that the government wants to remain in power for a longer period of time".

Boycott threat

Some Sunni leaders have threatened a boycott as a protest against the US-led offensive in Falluja.

Any widespread boycott by the Sunni community could strip the elected government of the legitimacy US and Iraqi authorities believe is necessary to foster a stable Iraq.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad says the unstable security situation is not the only factor behind calls for the delay.

Kurdish groups in the north of the country are said to be concerned that heavy snow in January may hinder their participation in the process.

Iraq's interim constitution says polls must take place by the end of January. Mr Saleh is in Britain, where he is to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He said he would not give a time scale for how long British and American forces would be needed in Iraq, but added it would be "for as long as is necessary".

He is expected to tell Mr Blair that the reconstruction of Iraq needs to be accelerated.

Bush insists election should go ahead as planned

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