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WORLD REACTION

Russia warns about elections; UN fears for civilians

Little criticism elsewhere for US

MOSCOW -- The intense US-led assault on Fallujah could undermine Iraq's upcoming elections, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned yesterday, and the UN refugee agency expressed concern about the tens of thousands of civilians who have fled the besieged city.

Official reaction worldwide appeared to be far less critical than some had expected.

Still, Russia, one of the sternest critics of the foreign military presence in Iraq, expressed concern about how the fighting might affect elections, set for January.

"We are . . . concerned that the actions in this region not worsen the conditions in Iraq as a whole in the run-up to the possible elections there," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said.

"We think that the military operation in Fallujah should not lead to a lot of casualties among the Iraqi civilian population, and it should be proportional to the threat," he said.

The UN high commissioner for refugees also expressed concern about Fallujah's civilians, tens of thousands of whom are believed to have fled as US-led forces battle insurgents.

"The most immediate needs of the displaced are food, shelter, water, and sanitation and health care," spokeswoman Jennifer Clark said in Geneva.

Rana Sidani, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the organization had received reports of wounded people in Fallujah being unable to receive treatment amid the battle.

The fighting, which has produced widely shown television footage, had been expected to bring strong criticism. But there was little from governments. In Georgia, the parliament approved deploying some 300 troops to Iraq, nearly tripling the country's contingent there.

However, in Britain -- one of the United States' closest allies in the Iraq war -- a new poll showed less than a third of respondents believing the invasion was a good idea. The poll, published in The Times newspaper, found that 57 percent thought military intervention was the wrong choice and only 31 percent approved -- compared with 52 percent and 38 percent respectively in July.

Another British paper, The Independent, said there was little doubt US-led forces would win the battle in Fallujah, but "a bloody assault on the town will destroy what little support that the United States still enjoys in Iraq, and send out a catastrophic message that it is unconcerned about what damage it inflicts on the Iraqi population so long as it achieves its goals."

"The US urgently needs to change its tactics in Iraq and adopt a more humane approach. Otherwise the country -- and its occupiers -- risk being plunged yet further into the abyss," the newspaper wrote.

And in Poland, another key US ally, some Poles expressed hopes that troops will crush insurgents holed up in Fallujah.

Slawomir Lewandowski, 36, a Warsaw-based computer specialist, said he was critical of Washington's motives for going to war but now just wants to see the situation stabilized.

"If I'm right, the chief motivation for war was to seize oil fields, and getting Saddam [Hussein] was just a pretext. This is bad," he said. "But once we have this situation, the only thing that's left for the Americans is to stabilize the situation. If coalition troops pull out now, the tribes will kill each other with their infighting."

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