Afghanistan (search) will miss the deadline to set a date for already-delayed elections because of wrangling among officials and political parties, a senior official said Thursday.

Farooq Wardak, a senior member of the country's election management body, said the group would not reach a decision by Friday, the last day to call the historic vote in September under new election laws. Afghan law says the polling day must be set at least 90 days in advance, making Friday the last chance to announce a Sept. 30 election.

But Wardak said after meeting with top U.N. official Jean Arnault (search) and President Hamid Karzai (search) that there was "always flexibility" about the 90-day grace period.

"If all the preparations are in place, the end of September is still possible," Wardak said.

Karzai has pledged repeatedly to hold elections in September, despite mounting violence against election workers and concern that warlords will use intimidation to cement their power.

Presidential and parliamentary elections already were delayed from June, and October is seen as the last chance to hold a vote before snow closes high passes in the Hindu Kush mountain range in dangerous eastern Afghanistan until the spring of 2005.

Wardak said the government census office had yet to deliver vital population estimates used to decide the distribution of seats in Parliament.

He also said only four of the 20 political parties consulted by the election body insist on the parliamentary vote being held this fall.

The votes are supposed to be held simultaneously, but observers say there is a possibility that officials could separate them, holding the presidential vote in October and the parliamentary election next year.

Karzai has argued that blocking the formation of Parliament would betray Afghans' hopes some three years after the U.S.-led ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime and more than two decades after the nation was plunged into a series of ruinous wars.

Political wrangling is not the only obstacle in the way of a vote. International officials have been cautioning for months that security is simply not adequate to hold the election.

The United Nations (search), which holds half the seats on the election body, has warned that warlords and faction leaders — some in government — must disarm their private armies to keep the vote credible.

"There is indeed a debate," U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. "Of course, if the debate goes on, that will have an impact on the election date."

News of the latest delay follows several weeks of attacks targeting election workers and registered voters. Two female election voters and more than a dozen Afghans who registered to vote were killed last week.

Analysts doubt whether the vote itself can be any better protected, even though thousands of foreign troops and newly trained Afghan security forces are being marshaled to shield polling stations.

The violence has not deterred Afghans from registering, with 5.5 million of the estimated 9.5 million eligible Afghans — including 2 million women — already signed up.

The fear is that many will vote along lines dictated by local strongmen and wealthy drug barons, blunting the hopes of independent candidates.

In March, Karzai used a promise to disarm 40,000 irregular fighters by June 30 to win international pledges of billions of dollars in aid to rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan.

But only 9,700 soldiers have given up their guns so far.

Almeida e Silva said U.N. officials "continue to attach the highest priority to DDR," which stands for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former soldiers.