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In Iraq, Key Sunni Party Resigned to Elections

BAGHDAD, Iraq (KRT) -- Iraq's principal Sunni Muslim political party conceded Wednesday that its effort to delay Iraq's parliamentary election had failed and that it was preparing a strategy to influence the elected government following the vote on Jan. 30.

The Iraqi Islamic Party's willingness to accept and engage a new government indicated a possible avenue for Sunni participation well short of the civil war feared by many analysts, even though the party told Knight Ridder it wouldn't reverse its decision to boycott the election. Majority Shiite Muslims are expected to dominate the new government.

The party's stance gave substance to Bush administration hopes that a widespread boycott of the vote wouldn't preclude Sunni participation in the new government. Broad Sunni participation could be key to lending legitimacy to a new constitution and eventually undermining popular support for the Iraqi insurgency.

"The Americans are insisting these elections go on time," Ayad al Samaraee, deputy chairman of the Iraqi Islamic Party, told Knight Ridder. "Most probably, there will be no delay."

Instead of trying to halt the elections, al Samaraee said the party would focus on giving Sunnis a voice in the new government and was now reaching out to other parties and encouraging them to work together.

"We are going to have to try to influence through talking with other groups," al Samaraee said. The victorious parties "should not look at it as a personal victory. It will be a responsibility to work for all of Iraq, not just a sect."

While al Samaraee's comments indicated that at least some prominent Sunnis would deal with the government and participate to help shape a new constitution, the gesture seemed unlikely to halt violent attacks on the government. The Iraqi Islamic Party is led by moderate Sunnis Muslims who haven't endorsed or participated in the insurgency.

Al Samaraee's views appeared to dovetail with the view evolving in the U.S. government.

In Washington, a top State Department official said that, even if Sunnis don't vote in large numbers on Jan. 30, there are ways to increase their role in the new Iraqi government.

The official, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Kozak, said Sunnis could have a larger representation in a committee to draft Iraq's new constitution than they do in the elected Iraqi legislature and could be appointed to additional posts in government ministries.

Kozak said the election could be credible even without significant Sunni participation. "I would make that distinction between the credibility of the election and the desirability of Sunni participation - two different things," he said.

Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst who specializes on Iraq at the National Defense University, agreed that elections should proceed even without widespread Sunni participation.

"I think if we were to agree to the delay, we would aggravate everyone else and not necessarily win over the Sunni Arabs," Yaphe said. "It alienates the 80 percent who are ready to vote."

But she cautioned that the election wouldn't eliminate Iraq's problems.

"The elections are not going to be a great cure-all for all that ails Iraq," Yaphe said.

The Shiites are expected to gain control of the government through the election, taking power from the minority Sunnis, who ruled the nation for decades.

The Islamic Party had argued that security conditions made safe voting impossible for most of the party's potential supporters and that if the election couldn't include everyone, it should be delayed.

Party leaders withdrew their candidates from the election to show their objection. A major Sunni religious group, the Muslim Scholars Association, also called for a boycott, saying the process was illegitimate. Both groups have said they wouldn't encourage participation unless the United States announced a date for the departure of U.S. troops, which the United States has refused to do.

The Muslim Scholars Association said Wednesday that it would continue its boycott of the vote.

It also said that 72 parties, coalitions of parties or individuals have joined its call for a boycott. They include Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Kurds, said Sheikh Omar Zaydan, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association. The claim couldn't be verified.

Zaydan said he expects more groups to withdraw "when they realize the failure of these elections."

The election will not "bring benefits or solve the problems of this country, which are more serious and more dangerous," he said.

Earlier this week, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi conceded that some areas of the country may be too dangerous to vote, but said the election must go forward on time.

American officials, Allawi and members of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq have repeatedly said that despite obstacles in holding the election, delaying it would be worse.

If they delayed the elections, that would nullify the only governing document in the country, the Transitional Administrative Law, officials have argued. That document, drafted by U.S. and Iraqi officials under the leadership of the former top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, specifies that elections must take place by Jan. 31.

It also spells out what the transitional government formed after the election should look like and what its main responsibility would be - crafting a permanent constitution. There are no conditions in the law that would allow for a delay in the election.

American officials have said that they're beefing up security around the polling centers. Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, said 100,000 Iraqi police will be working on Election Day, as will most of the country's nascent military.

Officials say that there's nothing to indicate that security will improve or that the Sunnis would participate in the postponed election. President Bush has argued that delaying the elections would be a win for terrorism.

By Nancy A. Youssef and Warren Strobel

Youssef reported from Baghdad, Strobel from Washington. Special correspondent Yasser Salihee contributed to this report from Baghdad.

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