Iraq sees foreign interference in elections
By Raissa Kasolowsky
MANAMA (Reuters) - Regional countries are trying to influence Iraq's upcoming elections but a coalition government is the mostly likely outcome, the foreign minister said on Saturday.
Iraq is due to hold national elections in March and the United States was to an inclusive government formed swiftly after the vote to avoid of a return to sectarian bloodshed.
"Many many regional governments and countries are really involved in supporting and siding with certain Iraqi groups in the elections," Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters on the sidelines of a security conference in Bahrain.
"Definitely I think there will be a lot of regional interference in these elections, in different forms -- in offering financial, political, media support, different ways to different groups... we need to be careful to prevent that from happening or affecting our elections."
The United States still has thousands of troops in Iraq backing the Shi'ite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose relations with most of the Sunni-led Arab countries are not warm.
Iraq's government has often accused neighbouring Syria of not taking action to stop militants operating in Iraq. Many Saudis were among the foreign militants who went to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries say Iran is backing many Shi'ite groups there.
Violence has dipped sharply in Iraq over the past 18 months but the recent bombings have stoked doubts about the ability of Iraqi security forces to keep the peace before the elections.
Militants linked to al Qaeda claimed bombings in Baghdad on Tuesday that police said killed 112 people.
"The government is really reviewing now its security measures and policies and there is definitely a need to take stronger measures against any breaches," Zebari said.
No measures have been taken so far, he said.
Disagreements between Iraq's factions held up parliamentary passage of a law needed for the election, originally slated for January, to take place. The presidency council said this week the poll, Iraq's first since 2005, would take place on March 7.
"This upcoming election will be diversified because there are going to be four or five parliamentary blocks," Zebari said. "Neither one or two or three would be able to form a government. There will be a need for a broader coalition."
Washington hopes to end combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, before a full pullout by the end of 2011. The U.S. force in Iraq is supposed to be reduced to 50,000 by end of August from around 115,000 now.
(Writing by Andrew Hammond)