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Iraqi president pushes for elections in January
Iraq's president said yesterday the insurgency will have won if his country's January elections are postponed, and he asked the international community to help quell the surge of violence that some fear might force a delay.
"There is no sacred date," President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer said. "But the thing is, this is a challenge that Iraqis have to take.
"After reviewing the situation, I think the worst thing to do is to postpone elections. This will give a tactical victory to the insurgents, to the forces of darkness."
Mr. al-Yawer will meet with President Bush today, who also is resolute that elections be held on Jan. 30, the date decreed by the United Nations.
However, the architect of the elections, former U.N. special envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi, is wavering on whether the elections can go forward amid the increasing violence, which has killed at least 76 more persons in a series of bombings and attacks since Friday.
"Elections are no magic potion, but part of a political process. They must be prepared well and take place at the right time to produce the good effects that you expect from them," Mr. Brahimi told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
Asked whether elections could be held under the current conditions, Mr. Brahimi said: "If the circumstances stay as they are, I personally don't think so."
Mr. al-Yawer responded to those comments during an appearance yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" and said the country has two months to prepare for the elections.
"We believe in Iraq that the main objective of these people who are committing these atrocities unjustifiably is to stop us from having our first chance to taste the harvest of liberating Iraq," Mr. al-Yawer said.
"We are asking the United Nations, the whole international community, to help us. We do not think that postponing the elections or delaying it will solve the problem. Actually, it will prolong the agony for Iraqis, and you will have more resentment in the Iraqi society," Mr. al-Yawer said.
Iraq's majority Shi'ites are eagerly awaiting the election, but the Sunnis oppose it, partly because the violence has been heavy in their areas west and north of Baghdad and voter registration there has not begun.
About 40 small, mostly Sunni political parties met yesterday to demand the elections be postponed by six months, but stopped short of calling for a boycott.
Insurgent attacks intensified over the weekend, killing 70 Iraqis and six U.S. soldiers in Baghdad and several northern cities. A bus carrying unarmed Iraqis to work at a U.S. weapons dump near Tikrit yesterday was attacked by gunmen, killing 17.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that although the weekend's wave of violence was expected, the willingness of the guerrillas to kill fellow Muslim civilians was not.
"I think we have to persevere. And I think if we delay the elections, it will simply play into their hands. But it is a very rough situation right now," Mr. Roberts said.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and ranking member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, is also skeptical about postponing the election.
"If you postpone it, there's no guarantee that it will be safer when that happens," Mr. Rockefeller said.
The Pentagon is deploying an additional 12,000 U.S. troops for election security, raising the total to 150,000.
Asked on "Fox News Sunday" whether that number was enough, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said, "It probably isn't."
But he also added, "The military is too small" to do much more.
"Many of us, as long as a year and a half ago, said you have to have more people there. You have to have more linguists, you have to have more Special Forces, and the Pentagon has reluctantly, obviously, gradually made some increases," Mr. McCain said.
"So, yes, we need more troops. Yes, we have to win. Yes, the elections have to be held at the end of January," Mr. McCain said.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, agreed.
"It's necessary, but not enough," Mr. Biden told ABC's "This Week."
"We should never have drawn down to 115,000 troops in the first place," Mr. Biden said.
Although Mr. al-Yawer predicted American troops will complete their mission there within months, Mr. Biden said he expects Iraqi security problems to continue long after the elections.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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