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Secrecy surrounds Iraq vote

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"Of course, security for our candidates is a big concern,'' says Saad Jawad Qindeel, head of the political bureau for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a member of the alliance and one of the country's most popular Shiite groups. "Participating in Iraqi politics is dangerous - the terrorists have made that clear," he says.

The United Iraqi Alliance, which is running a 228-member slate, has released the names of 34 of its most prominent candidates, about one-sixth of the list. The list was drawn up under the sponsorship of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite religious figure, and many Iraqis are expected to vote for the list under the assumption that he supports it, though he hasn't given it an explicit endorsement.

"Ayatollah Sistani has said he welcomes the list and if you ask me, that's an endorsement,'' says Mr. Qindeel. "For many Iraqis, it will be enough to know it's Sistani's list. They won't feel the need to know all the names."

Farid Ayar, a member of Iraq's Independent Election Commission, says he's urging Iraq's political parties to disclose all of their candidates' names. "We ask the parties continuously to do this because most voters want to know who the candidates are. But it's not something that's required."

Other matters that are still being worked out are the precise number and location of polling places, security arrangements to protect voters against possible insurgent attacks, and provisions to make it easier for Iraqis to reach the polls in largely Sunni areas of the country, where violence has been highest and voter turnout is expected to be low. Mr. Ayar says there will be between 5,500 and 6,000 polling places across the country, many in schools and government buildings. Polling stations will have an average of five booths. Ayar hopes the locations will be announced to the public around Jan. 22.

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