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No Question on Jan. 30 Iraqi Elections, Official Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2005 – There is no question that elections will be held in Iraq on Jan. 30, a senior State Department official said from Baghdad today.

Iraqis are scheduled to elect members of the National Assembly. Those members will act as a constitutional convention and determine the country's form of government.

The official said the security situation there has actually improved over the last six weeks. In most of Iraq, he said, the security situation is quite good.

However, in some areas security problems at polling places will be immense. A large number of insurgents plague the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul, for example, and that will complicate the voting process.

"It's not going to be easy," the official said. "But people look at democracy and look at elections as a way out of the problem, not an intensification of it.

If people are given the chance to vote "they will turn out, and we're working very hard to give them that chance," he said.

The official said some polling places in these areas will be moved to more easily defended areas.

Plans continue to use Iraqi security forces to protect people around polling places. The Iraqi police, National Guard and army will all be charged with ensuring voters' safety. The official said stations will be surrounded by "rings" of security that will process people in quickly and still allow them to exercise their new right to the ballot box safely.

The official said he expects "an enormous" turnout in Shiia areas. Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the leader of the Shiia sect in Iraq, issued a fatwa saying all Shiia men and women have an obligation to vote in the upcoming election. The ayatollah's edict affects some 60 percent of Iraq's population.

The official also said he expects a "very large" turnout in Kurd-majority areas. The Kurds have had elections in the north for their regional government in the past. "There's a lot of interest in this," he said. Kurds make up a bit more than 20 percent of Iraq's population.

The official said that in the Sunni Triangle -- roughly the area going from Baghdad to Ramadi to Tikrit -- voting will be problematic. In some areas the security situation is quite good. In others, such as Ramadi, security is poor.

"It's not all blood and fire and destruction in all places every day," the official said. "Some places (in the Sunni Triangle) do have problems, but many others do not."

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