On Thursday, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said elections should go ahead despite a volatile security situation and the prospect that not all Iraqis might be included in the vote.

 

However, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on Friday said the US wanted all Iraqis to be able to vote and that elections had to encompass the entire country.

  

Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, also offered a somewhat confusing assessment.

 

Allawi, who is on a visit to the US in an attempt to strengthen support, has said he wants the election to go ahead even if in only 14 or 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

 

Crucial

  

The vote is crucial for the Iraqi government and the US administration as they seek to bolster the credibility of their plans for post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

 

Armitage (R) says the US wants
all Iraqis to be able to vote

Allawi told the US Congress on Thursday that failure to hold elections would be a victory for the "terrorists".

  

However, President George Bush has warned that violence could increase before a vote is held and Rumsfeld said there might be no elections in parts of the country where the violence dominates.

  

"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 on Thursday.

 

Effort

  

"Well, so be it," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "You have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."

 

Carlos Valenzuela, leader of the UN team organising Iraq's elections, criticised Rumsfeld for suggesting only a limited vote might take place.

 

Valenzuela told the BBC in an interview on 24 September conflicting speculation was likely to marginalise sectors of Iraqi society and therefore fuel the violence ravaging the country.

 

Armitage, however, said he knew of no plans to hold partial elections that excluded violent areas. Armitage said every effort would be made to ensure all eligible voters took part.

 

"We've got to do our best efforts to get in troubled areas. ... I think we're going to have these elections in all parts of the country," he said.

 

"Is it going to be messy? Yes, it will," Armitage told a Congress committee. "But it's going to be fair and transparent."  

 

Calculated risk

 

Allawi is anxious to secure strong backing from the United Nations for the elections.

  

Rumsfeld (L) said some areas
might not be included in the vote

And he was to ask UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Friday to explain comments questioning whether credible elections could be held because of the violence which is taking a mounting toll on US and Iraqi forces.

  

"You cannot have credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now," the UN chief said in a recent interview with the BBC.

  

Annan said he had taken "a calculated risk" because of the troubles in sending teams to help set up the interim government and a legal framework for the elections.

  

Elections go ahead

 

But in the face of doubters, Allawi is adamant the elections will go ahead and they will be a success.

  

"The Iraqi elections may not be perfect," he said at the White House on Thursday.

  

"They may not be the best elections that Iraq will ever hold; they will undoubtedly be an excuse for violence from those who disparage and despise liberty, as we were the first elections in Sierra Leone, South Africa and Indonesia.

  

"But they will take place, and they will be free and fair."