U.S. Senators have agreed that Iraqi elections scheduled for January 30 are important, but they have mixed feelings about the likelihood elections there will proceed smoothly.
Speaking on the ABC television program This Week, Democratic Senator Carl Levin said he believes the upcoming Iraqi elections are necessary, but at the same time, he had reservations.
"It is very important that they [the elections] take place," said Mr. Levin. "I am not totally sure that they will take place or can take place. But it is very important that they do take place for all kinds of reasons. If they are delayed, it would be a sign that chaos, terror, can succeed in destroying whatever chance we have for democracy in Iraq."
Republican Senator Mitch McConnell had a different view of the matter.
"Similar things were said before the Afghan election. The Afghan election occurred. There was minimal violence there. They have got a new elected president for the first time in their history," recalled Senator McConnell. "I do not think the sky is falling in Iraq. We have made a lot of progress. It has been tough going, but I do not think there is any chance this election will not happen on January 30."
Another Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel, called elections "the first real milestone that will develop confidence and trust" among the Iraqi people. But he said a shortage of U.S. troops there means security is a continuing problem.
"I do not think we have enough troops. We did not have enough going in. That is partly why we are in the mess we are in, in Iraq," he said.
Senator Hagel added that another important factor is training Iraqis to serve as military and police forces as quickly and as effectively as possible, so that they can be in charge of their own security.
Meanwhile, Senator Levin said he believes a crucial element to successful elections in Iraq is participation by the country's Sunni Muslim minority, which used to dominate the country under Saddam Hussein and has so far refused to take part in the elections.
"I am not talking about the people who are using violence against us, in the Sunni community. I mean the community itself, the overall Sunni community.
"There are clergy who have said they are not going to support the election," continued Senator Levin. "The Sunni political parties have said they are not going to participate in the government. We have got to give them incentives to participate, to give them carrots and sticks, so that they are more willing to participate in the election than they are to abandon it.
Sunni Muslims make up as much as 37 percent of Iraq's 24 million people, while Shia Muslims make up 60 percent.