Russian President Vladimir Putin says he cannot imagine how Iraq could hold its elections -- planned for next month -- as long as the country remains under what he called foreign occupation.

Mr. Putin spoke Tuesday in Moscow during a meeting with Iraq's visiting interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi.

President Putin also said he could not see how Iraq, on its own, could control its security situation and prevent the country from breaking up.

The Russian leader told Mr. Allawi Russia has a feeling of solidarity with the Iraqi people as evidenced, Mr. Putin said, by the Kremlin's decision to erase most of Baghdad's pre-war debt to Moscow.

The Associated Press quotes Mr. Allawi as saying the debt reduction will help Russia play what he called a "leading role" in Iraq's reconstruction.