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U.S. to accept ‘fair’ Iraq victors

Powell doubts that Iraqis would elect a radical government

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the United States would recognize the election of an Islamic Shia government in Iraq provided the voting was free, fair and open.

But in an interview with Abu Dhabi television, Powell said it was unlikely that Iraqis would elect a radicalized government or one that would not protect the rights of all Iraqis.

"I don't think the Iraqi people would go from one form of a totalitarian state to another form of totalitarian state," he said. "I think they want democracy. I think they want women to participate fully in the life of a future Iraq, and I hope the election will produce that result."

The Shia are the majority population, but the rights of Kurds, Sunnis and all other segments of Iraq's society must be protected, he said.

"If the election is free, fair and open, we will accept the results," Powell said.

He said the United States was still working on having elections in Iraq by the end of January. That is the goal of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, "and we are working with the U.N. to get the people in to support that plan as well," he said.

Along those lines, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed a decision by Fiji to provide two security detachments and a guard unit at one of the United Nations' planned mission stations in Baghdad, Basri and Irbil.

"We think that is an important commitment," he said.

Boucher said the United States was talking to Georgia and to other countries, which he did not identify, about support for U.N. officials in Iraq.

Last week, U.S. officials said Georgia had offered 549 troops.

Last summer, the Bush administration and the Iraqi interim government dismissed an offer by Saudi Arabia to organize a Muslim force to protect the United Nations in Iraq.

Administration spokesmen said the Iraqi government was concerned about having troops from neighboring countries in the peacekeeping force, while U.S. commanders objected to the force being under U.N. command.

Boucher said the Fiji troops and any others contributed by Georgia or other nations would be under the command of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan withdrew U.N. officials from Iraq after terrorists bombed U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003, killing 22 U.N. officials, including the temporary chief U.N. envoy, Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello.

In August, Annan permitted a small U.N. contingent to return to Baghdad and imposed a ceiling of 35 international staffers. He has been under pressure to increase the amount of help as Iraq prepares for elections.

"We want the United Nations to be in Iraq to help with the election and to help with other things," Boucher said. "We have consistently encouraged the United Nations to continue to expand its presence a play a vital role there."