Talabani made his comments during a visit to the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya with Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, to lay the foundation stone for the American University of Iraq - an institution of higher learning that Kurds and the Iraqi government hope will emulate other colleges with a similar name in the Middle East.

"I think that these elections will be decisive and different from the last ones. The Sunnis will vote," Talabani said.

That alone, he added, will preclude the formation of a majority bloc in the 275-member National Assembly to be elected in the Thursday polls.

"There will be no majority bloc," he said. "There will be some important bloc that will be obliged to form coalitions or a consensus of sorts to form a government."

Talabani said that would lead to "more unity in Iraq," while strong participation by the Sunni Arabs will "remove any pretext from the insurgents," claiming to fight an illegitimate government.

American influence

The differences that divide Iraqis are apparent in its northern Kurdish regions, where pro-American sentiment comes in stark contrast to the rest of the country - including the decision to build the American University there.

The first of its kind in Iraq, the university hopes to eventually teach up to 5000 students and has commitment of more than $20 million, mainly from businessmen in the region.

"I think that these elections will be decisive and different from the last ones. The Sunnis will vote"

Jalal Talabani,
Iraqi president

Khalilzad, too, urged Iraqis to turn out and vote as he addressed a crowd of Kurds on a dusty hilltop where construction on the privately funded university will begin next year. The university is also receiving support from the US Agency for International Development.

"Indications are that many Iraqis of various sectarian and ethnic lines will participate. I urge all Iraqis to go out and vote," Khalilzad said.

Across the divide

He added that the United States was "urging everyone to vote. We need more cross sectarian and cross ethnic coalitions that are issue oriented... We need a government that brings Iraqis together."

Khalilzad said that the sectarian divide in Iraq was fueling "the terrorists who want to promote a civil war. So to defeat those who want a civil war you need more bridge building across communities."

He expressed hope that "there will be more Sunni participation and that the turnout should be quite high".

Although he did not comment on Iraq's politics, Khalilzad called on Iran not to meddle in the elections. Some parties have ties with Iran, including the governing United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shia religious parties.

"We don't want Iran to interfere in Iraqi affairs, to seek to send weapons ... or seek to dominate the region," he said.