In an interview broadcast before polling stations closed on Sunday, Muhammad al-Kubaysi said low turnout in places such as Baghdad, Baquba and Samarra could have been prevented if there had been more time to create a genuine election.

"The voter goes to the polling stations not knowing who he is voting for in the first place. There are more than 7700 candidates, and I challenge any Iraqi voter to name more than half a dozen."

He also criticised the huge number of groups on voting lists in which it was virtually impossible to know who was standing for election and what the candidate's background was.

"Their names have not been announced but have been kept secret ... elections should never have been held under these present circumstances," he said.

"Even 80% of Iraqis living abroad in complete safety refused to register their names. This shows that the low turnout in many areas is not a security problem.

"Rather, it demonstrates a growing Iraqi awareness that these elections are indeed an American and not Iraqi initiative", al-Kubaysi said.

Not a solution

The AMS spokesman added that it would be wrong for the US to assume that any new government could legitimise the continued US military presence in the region.

"The elections are not a solution to the Iraqi problem, because this problem is not an internal dispute to be resolved through accords and elections. It lies in the presence of a foreign power that occupies this country and refuses even the mere scheduling of the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq", he said.

Al-Kubaysi said AMS believed political consensus among Iraqi parties could only be reached once the foreign military presence left the country and all parties had to rely on debate rather than use of force.

"We have consistently argued that elections can only occur in a democracy that enjoys sovereignty. Our sovereignty is incomplete. Our sovereignty is usurped by foreign forces that have occupied our land and hurt our dignity."

Asked whether the influential group was looking to upset a transition to democracy by rejecting elections, al-Kubaysi replied: "These elections ... are a means of establishing the foreign forces in Iraq and keeping Iraq under the yoke of occupation. They should have been postponed."