New York Times
January 12, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 11 - Prime Minister Ayad Allawi acknowledged today that "pockets" of Iraq would be too dangerous for voters to cast ballots in the elections later this month, as insurgents continued their campaign to disrupt the vote, killing at least 15 Iraqis and attacking one of the country's main election offices.
In a televised address, Mr. Allawi said he hoped that American and Iraqi security forces would be able to pacify many of the country's most chaotic areas. By election day, he said, the areas too dangerous for voting would probably be small.
"Hostile forces are trying to hinder this event," Mr. Allawi said. "Certainly, there will be some pockets where people will not be able to participate in the elections, but we do not think it will be widespread."
The statement marks the first time Mr. Allawi has publicly acknowledged that parts of Iraq will likely prove too violent to support elections, now scheduled for Jan. 30. Last week, the commander of American ground forces here, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, said portions of four Iraqi provinces, most of them dominated by Sunni Arabs, were not safe enough for voting.
Mr. Allawi's statement comes amid a major escalation of violence by the insurgents, who have killed more than 100 Iraqi police this month, and who have begun to employ larger and more sophisticated bombs to kill American soldiers. On Monday, guerrillas assassinated Baghdad's deputy police chief and, in another attack, killed two American soldiers with a huge homemade bomb.
Insurgents are also warning Iraqis to stay away from the polls, and American and Iraqi leaders fear that election day itself could be the occasion for an especially bloody onslaught.
The violence has prompted many Sunni Arabs who do support elections to demand that they be postponed, until at least some of the more chaotic areas could be brought under control. The prospect of an election boycott by the country's Sunni Arab minority, which dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, has given rise to fears that the elections themselves may be laying the groundwork for greater conflict in the future, including even civil war.
Sunni Arabs comprise about 20 percent of Iraq's population and are concentrated in the areas north and west of Baghdad, and in the northern city of Mosul.
Mr. Allawi, despite deep misgivings, has vowed to hold the elections anyway, saying that a delay would amount to a capitulation before the insurgents. President Bush also says he believes the elections should go forward.
Mr. Allawi, himself a candidate for the national assembly, also announced that he would expand the size of the Iraqi army from 100,000 to 150,000 soldiers. It is unlikely that any of those additional soldiers would be ready to fight by election day.
In a separate statement, Mr. Allawi said that attacks on oil and electricity infrastructure have cost the country some $10 billion in revenue. He made those remarks in an interview with the state-run Al-Iraqiya television, amid reports that guerrillas had attacked the country's oil industry at several points.
The Associated Press reported that an explosion destroyed a gas pipeline about 35 miles southwest of the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The A.P. report quoted an official with the Northern Oil Company as saying the line would be closed for at least five days.
Guerrillas have regularly targeted the country's oil facilities, and the electrical system that supports it, which earns Iraq tens of millions of dollars a day.
Insurgents continued their violence today in attacks across the country. A suicide bombers struck a police checkpoint north of the city of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, and killed six people and wounded 12 others. A suicide bomber tried to strike the Basra office of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq but missed, killing only himself.
Seven Iraqis were killed when their minibus was struck by a roadside bomb in the town of Yusifiya, The Associated Press reported. The bomb was apparently intended for an American convoy that had been passing through, but it exploded and hit the bus instead.
Yusifiya is one of a string of Sunni-dominated cities south of Baghdad that have been the scene of regular violence against American and Iraqi forces.
Also, the marines said today that a mortar attack by guerrillas killed two Iraqi civilians and wounded six others in the town of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad.