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UN: US Military Overenthusiastic

UN officials have had to discourage an "overenthusiastic" US military from helping to get out the vote in Iraq before Sunday's election, the top UN electoral adviser said on Wednesday. 

"The US military has been extremely overenthusiastic in trying to help out with these elections," said Carina Perelli, who heads the UN Electoral Assistance Division.


"We have been basically saying that they should try to minimize their involvement as this is an Iraqi process," she told a news conference, adding that Iraq's election commission had delivered the same message.


The Bush administration sees successful elections in Iraq as an affirmation of its policy to spread democracy in the Middle East. But some Iraqis view the United States as an occupier and blame the insurgency on continuing American involvement in their country.


With technical preparations completed, it is up to the Iraqi people alone to decide if the process is valid and important enough to risk their lives to vote, according to Perelli.


Even as UN officials encouraged all Iraqis to participate in Sunday's balloting, they stressed there would be future opportunities to make the new government more inclusive if some groups such as minority Sunnis choose to stay home.


Perelli said the world body had done everything it could from a technical point of view to help the Iraqis prepare for the elections and carry them out.


Responsibility transfer


When UN questioned US military's overenthusiasm, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said US-led coalition forces and Iraqi officials would begin discussing the handover of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces after Sunday's elections.


But Blair did not set out a clear timetable for the transfer of responsibilities, reportedly saying in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper that the move would come only when Iraqi forces are up to the job.


"Both ourselves and the Iraqis want us to leave as soon as possible," Blair was quoted as saying by the newspaper, "the question is what is 'as soon as possible?' And the answer to that is: when the Iraqi forces have the capability to do the job."


He said the coalition was "looking with the Iraqis now at what are the timelines for the Iraqi-ization to be achieved."


Once the January 30 poll is over, "we have got to sit down with the new government and look at how we manage the transition," Blair was quoted as saying, "there are areas where we would be able to hand over to those Iraqi forces. Remember, 14 out of the 18 provinces in Iraq are relatively peaceful and stable."


The Pentagon has said it hopes to train about 135,000 Iraqi police, 60,000 members of the national guard and 25,000 army members.


But there are fears in London and Washington that the process is lagging, hampered by desertions and poor leadership among Iraqi recruits.


A British diplomat said it was not yet possible to draw up a firm timetable for handing responsibility to Iraqi troops because it remains unclear when they would be ready.


More violence comes


Though 14 provinces are relatively peaceful in Blair's eyes, pre-election violence became more intensive following the deadliest day for US troops since the war's start.


Eleven Iraqis and one US Marine were killed yesterday as insurgents clashed with US troops and blew up a school slated to serve as a polling center. Another US soldier died in an accident.


The Marine was killed and five others injured when insurgents launched mortars at their base near Iskandariyah, about 50 kilometers south of Baghdad.


Australian officials announced that one of two car bombings on Baghdad's dangerous airport road on Wednesday had injured eight Australian soldiers riding in a convoy escorting Australian Government officials.


In a continuation of the pre-election violence plaguing the country, three Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday in a house in Samarra, 97 kilometers north of Baghdad, when a car bomb exploded nearby, said Alaadin Mohammed, a doctor at the local hospital.


Another three Iraqis were killed and seven injured when a roadside bomb missed a US convoy in Mahmoudiya, 32 kilometers south of Baghdad, according to the area's hospital director, Dawoud al-Taie.


Also, an Iraqi army soldier was killed and five civilians and two Iraqi police officers were wounded when a suicide car bomb exploded near the Iraqi soldier's patrol in Baqouba, said 1st Sergeant Brian Thomas of the US military.


Near Tikrit, a roadside bomb killed one Iraqi bystander and narrowly missed another passing US military convoy, police said. The attack happened on a road near former leader Saddam Hussein's hometown, about 130 kilometers north of Baghdad, said police Lieutenant Shalan Allawi.


Also in Samarra, armed men blew up a local school administration building yesterday morning after first ordering the staff to leave, said police Lieutenant Qassim Mohammed. The destroyed building had been scheduled to be a voting center in Sunday's elections.


Sporadic clashes also erupted in Samarra between US troops and armed men, killing one Iraqi civilian and injuring another, Mohammed said.


And in Ramadi, capital of the insurgent-plagued province of Anbar west of Baghdad, another Iraqi National Guard soldier was killed when insurgents attacked a joint US-Iraqi force guarding a voting center at a school, said police Lieutenant Safa al-Obeidi.


In Baquba, the body of a colonel in the former Iraqi intelligence during Saddam's era, Talib Minshid, was found in the city, according to a Baquba hospital official, Mohammed Ali.


Minshid had been abducted by armed men two days ago.


A US soldier also died from a gunshot wound early yesterday on a base near Tikrit in what the American military command called an accident.


Just days before Sunday's crucial election, four Iraqi National Guard soldiers and one officer also were kidnapped Wednesday afternoon in Baghdadi, 145 kilometers west of Baghdad.


(China Daily January 28, 2005)

Bloodiest Day for US Troops in Iraq, 37 Killed
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Resentment Grows As Poll Approaches
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