Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, a leading candidate on the front-running Shia Muslim list for the 30 January elections, said he feared the milestone polls could be marred by fraud.

He also warned on Monday that the dire security situation could prevent observers being sent to polling stations nationwide for the vote, being hailed as the first free and fair elections in half a century.

Police in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf on Monday announced a special security plan for the January 30 elections, banning all non-residents for a five-day period.

"The interior ministry has announced a three-day security plan for the elections. Here in Najaf, we are implementing a plan over five days," police chief Ghalib al-Jazairi said.

US envoy Negroponte says there
will be some 'problematic areas'

"One of the main points is that we will ask all the people who are not from Najaf to leave the city for the elections. Those who stay will be arrested and treated as terrorist suspects."

Security problems

The US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, acknowledged serious problems in advance of next weekend's election but offered assurances that "great efforts" were being made so every Iraqi can vote.

In a series of interviews on Sunday on US television talk shows, Negroponte acknowledged an increase in intimidation of Iraqi officials and security forces and said serious security problems remain in "the Sunni Triangle" north and west of Baghdad.

"But security measures are being taken, by both the multinational forces here in Iraq as well as the Iraqi armed forces and police," Negroponte told Fox News Sunday.

"There will be some problematic areas ... . But even there, great efforts are being made to enable every Iraqi eligible to do so to be able to vote."