"We believe there will be adequate security for these elections to be held on January 30," he said during a surprise visit on Saturday to Falluja, which has recently been the scene of the worst post-war fighting in Iraq.

Shortly after his comments, the head of Iraq's electoral commission said it was out of the question that elections would be postponed.

"We support the implementation of the transitional law in Iraq," Negroponte added, a day after 10 leading Iraqi political parties requested the 30 January elections be postponed by six months due to security concerns.

'Better atmosphere'

"Unrest and terrorist acts as well as insufficient preparations at the administrative, technical and political levels necessitate the date be reconsidered," said a statement approved on Saturday by 17 organisations, including 10 leading political parties.

Violence continues to make the
job of organising polls
difficult

Negroponte visited a US military base in Falluja with Iraqi Minister of Industry Hashim al-Hasani, the highest-level delegation to have visited the battered town since US-led forces launched a massive onslaught on 8 November to root out resistance fighters in advance of the elections.

"We are doing the best we can to provide a better atmosphere to hold the elections on time," al-Hasani said.

Al-Hasani's predominantly Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party was one of those that approved the postponement request, but the minister stayed in the government when party leader Muhsin Abd al-Hamid withdrew from the coalition to voice his opposition to the Falluja assault.

Shia oppose delay

Meanwhile, a spokesman representing Iraq's Shia Muslim community said a postponement of the Iraqi general elections would be unacceptable to their religious leaders.

"The Marjaiya (religious Shia leaders in Najaf) think a postponement of the elections would be unacceptable," Muhammad Husayn al-Hakim said.

"The date of the elections can no longer be questioned; the issue has been decided," said the spokesman, who is also the son of Grand Ayat Allah Muhammad Said al-Hakim.

He said he was speaking in the name of all four leaders of the Marjaiya, which includes the influential Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shia authority in Iraq.