"The elections should not be postponed. It's time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls, and that's why we are very firm on the January 30th date," Bush told US reporters at the White House on Thursday.

"Our commanders requested some troops delay their departure home and the expedition of the other troops to help these elections go forward. And I honoured their request," Bush said.

The number of US forces in Iraq is to climb from 138,000 to about 150,000 by early January through extended tours and fresh deployments. That is the same level of 30 April 30 2003, just before Bush declared the end of major combat.

On the ground, a US soldier died in the northern town of Mosul on Thursday and at least five Iraqis were killed elsewhere in attacks targeting the government - one in a Baghdad mortar attack and two town council members in an armed attack in Baquba.

More violence

In Anbar four persons were killed and another two wounded by US snipers, Aljazeera reported, after US troops raided the eastern part of the town.

The headquarters of the US forces west of the town came under mortar attack and smoke was seen rising from the scene.

The US soldier's death in Mosul brought to 981 the number of US servicemen killed in action since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, according to a Pentagon tally.

US marines are hard put to stop
fighters from returning to Falluja

The soldier from Task Force Olympia was shot dead during an attack on his patrol in the city 370km north of Baghdad at around 3pm (1200 GMT), a statement said.

The US military has been conducting intensified operations in Mosul since coordinated attacks by armed fighters on the city's police stations prompted most of the force to quit on 11 November.

In another development, the US military has raised the number for troops killed in last month's offensive to take control of the Iraqi town of Falluja to 71, a toll 20 higher than previously reported.

Car-bomb attack

Among the five people killed in attacks on the US-backed interim government on Thursday was an Iraqi guardsman, who died in a car-bomb attack in the same area as another was murdered near the Shia pilgrimage city of Karbala. 

A US source told Aljazeera a car bomb exploded at an Iraqi National Guards checkpoint on the main road west of Baiji.

Car bombs continue to take their
toll on US troops and their allies

An Iraqi was killed and two Iraqi national guards were injured in the explosion, the source added.

A local woman official for Salah al-Din province, Dhamayr Shakir Sudani, was snatched by armed fighters near Baiji, as a hospital director was wounded after he was shot five times as he drove home in Hilla, police said.

In central Baquba, fighters attacked the house of Major-General Iyad Ibrahim al-Karwi, commander of joint operations in al-Dubbat neighbourhood in central Baquba, Aljazeera has learned.

Al-Karwi's son was injured in the attack and later transferred to the city's hospital.

Requests received

Despite the interim Iraqi prime minister's insistence that violence has declined since last month's Falluja assault, Sunni tribal leaders from the area said that they had petitioned Allawi to postpone the elections.

But election commission spokesman Farid Ayar said the final date for candidate registrations would be December 15 following "requests from individuals and political parties from the provinces of Salah al-Din, Anbar and Mosul.

"The prevailing insecurity does not permit participation in the elections, especially
that of the Sunnis"

Shaikh Majid Abd al-Razzak
al-Ali al-Sulayman,
chief of Dulaimi tribe in Iraq's Anbar province

Nearly 70 groups from the Sunni minority have threatened to boycott the vote, arguing that any election should be held only after foreign troops leave Iraq.

With the Shia Muslim south and Kurdish north relatively violence free, US forces must ensure that Sunni areas are under control by 30 January.

"The prevailing insecurity does not permit participation in the elections, especially that of the Sunnis," Shaikh Majid Abd al-Razzak al-Ali al-Sulayman, chief of the Dulaimi tribe in Anbar province, said.

Sulayman, who met Iyad Allawi in Amman on Wednesday, said the premier had told him the matter was not for him to decide, but for the United Nations.

Kurds to participate

Allawi's talks with exiles and Jordan's King Abd Allah II came barely two months before the scheduled polls and after he rejected a call from major political parties for a six-month election delay because of insecurity. 

The two main Kurdish parties will
take part in the legislative polls

For the interim Iraqi premier, some good news came in the form of all Kurdish parties, including the main two ones, PUK and KDP, deciding to take part in the legislative elections.

The parties, meeting at Salah al-Din resort, will present an independent joint list for Kurdistan's legislative elections, which will coincide with the general elections in Iraq, Aljazeera has learned.
 
In the meantime, Allawi, turning his attention to Iraq's economic mire, headed to Germany and Russia, two countries that opposed last year's invasion.

"A large part of our debt is owed to Russia and France, and we have already rallied Germany to our cause after it agreed to forgive nearly all of Iraq's debt," Allawi said this week.

Last month the so-called Paris Club of creditor nations agreed to forgive some $32 billion of the debt of oil-rich Iraq.