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US Officials: Iraq Elections Must be On Time

Deadly car bomb attacks, combined with the assassination of election workers in Iraq are heightening concerns about security conditions for national elections scheduled to take place on January 30. In Washington, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers acknowledge the obstacles Iraqis face as they prepare for elections, but say the vote will bring about important changes.

Sunday's attacks in the majority-Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala left scores of people dead. In Baghdad, meanwhile, gunmen killed three election workers after pulling them from a car.

The violence is not going unnoticed in Washington. But any thought of postponing Iraq's election, now just six weeks away, was flatly dismissed by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John Warner of Virginia. "That election will go forward. I am confident," he said.

Mr. Warner spoke on NBC's Meet the Press program. Also appearing on the program was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Indiana Republican Dick Lugar, who acknowledged serious challenges remain to be overcome in Iraq.

"Certainly, with polling stations being shot at, and Iraqis being killed, it is tough to get the people even to register [to vote], and to get the thing [the election] on track," he noted.

And, Senator Lugar warned, the elections might yield a Shiite majority committed to Islamic fundamentalism, rather than American-style pluralism.

"The results of this election, the results of the constitution, may be very unsettling for many Americans who anticipated democracy [in Iraq], more of a Jeffersonian-Madison variety, and are going to find an Iraqi form of democracy that has a heavy religious overtone to it, and a number of people not interested in so many checks and balances [on power] and human rights," he added.

But a more hopeful tone came from the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, who said something positive may emerge from the elections.

"I think you will see some independent voices elected," said Mr. Biden. "I think you will see it virtually impossible for the Shiite majority to dominate the Kurds in the north [of Iraq]. I think you will see some Sunnis that decide they must get engaged [in Iraq's political future]. And I think you will see, on balance, a government leaning closer to Iran, but I do not see a theocracy there."

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, a fierce critic of the Bush administration's initial decision to go to war in Iraq, said, at this point, the United States has no viable option other than pressing ahead with election plans.

"The alternative to an election is disintegration and civil war," he said. "That is in no one's interest, even those of us who opposed going in [invading Iraq]. Most countries in the world want stability in Iraq. That is in everybody's interest, and that is why everybody should pull together to make this election succeed."

One of the architects of the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, continues to face intense criticism from lawmakers of both parties about decisions made in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's ouster. But both Senator Warner and Senator Lugar say that, with the United States at war and Iraq preparing for elections, now is not the right time to find a new secretary of defense.

Meanwhile, appearing on ABC's This Week program, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said, in his words, "Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job, and the president [Bush] has great confidence in him."