UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned the United States, Iraq and Britain that an all-out assault on Fallujah could undermine national elections set for January and further alienate Iraqis, according to a letter obtained Friday.

Despite escalating violence, U.N. officials said that the United Nations would soon start a public awareness campaign to prepare Iraqis for the election. They also said Annan will raise the current ceiling of 35 international staff to beef up U.N. assistance to the process.

Annan’s warning was clearly aimed at heading off – or at least delaying – a major attack that the U.S.-led coalition has indicated is imminent.

“It is essential that current efforts to attract a broader spectrum of Iraqis to join the political process should succeed,” Annan wrote in the letter, dated Oct. 31 and sent to President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Though he didn’t say so directly, Annan’s obvious concern is that while Kurds and Shiites will take part, the Sunnis who dominate Fallujah and other areas will reject the process and hobble the vote’s credibility. Hardline Sunni clerics who run Fallujah have threatened to call for a boycott of the vote if there is an assault.

“I have in mind not only the risk of increased insurgent violence, but also reports of major military offensives being planned by the multinational force in key localities such as Fallujah,” he said.

The United Nations is advising and assisting Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission.

, which is responsible for organizing and conducting elections.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast announced that the ceiling on international staff would be raised to help the electoral process but refused to disclose the new limit. A U.N. diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said it would only be raised by about a dozen people.

U.N. election chief Carina Perelli said the voter awareness campaign will involve television, newspaper and radio advertisements, and leaflet distribution near mosques.

“Whether or not the Iraqis afterward want to vote or want to register, that’s their right,” she said. “Our obligation is to provide the means for them to participate.”

Perelli said a registration campaign had begun Monday at sites where Iraqis collect ration cards for food. They are given a piece of paper with a list of all family members of voting age and can then correct it if necessary.

Perelli said registration workers haven’t been able to get into Mosul, one of the country’s largest cities, as well as Ramadi and Fallujah.

The United Nations believes the number of eligible voters in Iraq is 13.9 million, but could be as high as 15 million, she said.

AP-ES-11-05-04 1830EST

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