EU chief casts doubt on Iraq elections

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said there is little prospect of Iraq holding national elections on time in January because of deteriorating security.

    Solana's comments could cause tension with the UK

    His comments in The Hague on Monday call into

    question the Western and Iraqi interim government line.

    "The situation from the point of view of security does not

    give much of a hope that that will be realised on the date,"

    Solana said

    just three days after Iraqi interim Prime

    Minister Iyad Allawi gave EU leaders an upbeat forecast.

    Solana said a 60-day emergency declared by Allawi to crush Iraqi fighters

    would take the country almost to the date targeted

    for elections.

    The US-backed Iraqi leader had given EU leaders "a picture

    of security that was probably more optimistic than the reality

    has shown", the EU official said.

    Solana cast doubt not only on US and Iraqi policy but

    also on the official declaration of last Friday's EU summit,

    which endorsed the election timetable.

    He also made clear that he

    shared UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's concern about a

    looming US-Iraqi military assault on

     Falluja, west of Baghdad.

    Iraq summit

    "We insist very much that the political process should be

    exhausted before action that may be very tough action and may

    have repercussions also for the next summit that is already

    agreed ... with the neighbouring countries," Solana said.

    Anti-US attacks have been on the
    rise in Iraq

    "This is a very important political event and should not be

    put in jeopardy," he said.

    A meeting of regional and world leaders to discuss Iraq's

    future has been scheduled for 22-23 November in the Egyptian resort

    of Sharm al-Shaikh.

    US planes and artillery have pounded Falluja and marines have moved

    towards forward positions in preparation for a full-scale

    offensive, which Allawi authorised on Monday.

    Solana's unusually public doubts about the Iraqi elections

    could cause tension with Britain, the EU member with the largest

    number of troops deployed in Iraq.

    Prime Minister Tony Blair last Friday stressed the

    importance of going ahead with the polls, saying violence had

    increased precisely because Iraqi fighters wanted to prevent the country getting

    a democratically elected, legitimate government.

    Even EU governments that were critical of the US-led

    invasion of Iraq, such as France and Germany, have called for

    the elections to be held on time, seeing it as the start of a

    process leading to US withdrawal from the country.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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