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U.S. official: Iraq may set aside Sunni assembly seats

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – Iraq’s electoral commission is considering setting aside seats in the country’s national assembly for Sunni Arab politicians and other groups if their supporters don’t vote in the country’s Jan. 30 elections for fear of attacks by insurgents, a U.S. official said Sunday.

Authorities are looking to counter the effects of threats by insurgents, who have vowed to attack voters and polling stations, said Marine Maj. Jim West, intelligence operations officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah.

The prospect of attacks and intimidation has led some Iraqis, especially in Sunni areas west of Baghdad, to say they’re too afraid to vote. Particularly at issue is the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, where the insurgents are strong.

The New York Times first reported the idea in its Sunday editions, citing an anonymous Western diplomat who said the option had been presented to an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an influential Shiite cleric who has urged Shiites to take part in the vote.

Shiites comprise about 60 percent of Iraq’s population, with Kurds and Sunni Arabs making up 20 percent each. Some American and Iraqi leaders fear the legitimacy of the election would be jeopardized if Sunnis don’t vote.


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