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Elections top agenda at Iraq conference

Elections top agenda at Iraq conference
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Western countries that both opposed and supported the US-led war in Iraq have stood together on the issue of upcoming elections. Arriving for a conference in Egypt foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany prepared to sign a joint statement that the Iraq vote should go ahead as planned on January 30. However, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Arab League have all raised doubts that the security situation is good enough for a nationwide ballot.

They have suggested delaying the election for several weeks, and stressed the need to encourage both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim Iraqis to vote. Iraq’s interim government, which is backed by Washington, said postponement would send the wrong signal to insurgents.

But one of the key questions under debate at the talks in Sharm el-Sheikh is what impact the recent assault on Falluja will have. Officials from the Baghdad administration maintain the US advance has hit rebel groups hard. Others argue it has only served to alienate the minority Sunni population. Meanwhile the violence continues, with an insurgent rocket attack destroying cars and buildings in an area of Baghdad that is home to many government buildings. Elsewhere in the capital a roadside bomb hit an American convoy.