Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed on Wednesday to hold national elections on January 30 as scheduled, in spite of unrelenting daily violence by insurgents aimed at disrupting the polls. Shortly before Mr. Allawi spoke to reporters in Baghdad, yet another car bomb targeting Iraqi security forces exploded at a police graduation ceremony in the south central city of Hillah. The blast killed nearly a dozen people.
At Wednesday's press conference, Prime Minister Allawi reiterated his unwavering commitment to holding Iraqi elections on time.
Mr. Allawi warned that postponing the elections would only increase attacks against those who support establishing democracy in Iraq. He urged all Iraqis to defy the insurgents and vote on January 30.
"We are encouraging them to participate in this process," he said. "And I believe this is a great opportunity for the Iraqi people to express their belief in the unity of Iraq and to take this process to a successful end."
For the past several weeks, escalating violence and a series of setbacks, including the withdrawal of the country's largest Sunni Muslim party from the race, have put enormous pressure on the Iraqi interim leader to postpone the elections for at least six months.
This week, members of Mr. Allawi's own cabinet hinted that the elections may be delayed to ensure greater participation by Sunni Arabs. Many Sunni Arabs have said that they will boycott the elections because rising violence and insecurity in Sunni-dominated areas of the country would make voting too dangerous and difficult.
The prospect of holding elections without the country's second largest voting bloc has raised concern that the poll results will be seen as illegitimate and will further fuel the insurgency.
Iraqi officials blame much of the on-going violence on Sunni Arab followers of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, who fear losing long-held political power to the country's majority Shiite Muslims, and on Sunni Muslim extremists allied with al-Qaida-related terrorist groups, who have condemned the concept of democracy as being "un-Islamic."
Through car bombings and ambushes designed to frighten Iraqis, the insurgents have killed some 1,300 Iraqi policemen and countless paramilitary Iraqi National Guardsmen in the past four months.
Insurgents have also assassinated or have tried to assassinate high-level government officials and political party leaders. On Tuesday, gunmen killed the governor of Baghdad province, Ali al-Haidari, who was known for cooperating closely with American troops and advisers.
To counter the growing instability, Prime Minister Allawi, who will also lead a secular political party in the race, says his government has decided to merge the country's National Guard units into the regular army to give the army a much bigger role in domestic security.
"We will try to expand these forces and equip them with armed vehicles and they will first appear during next week," he said. "And all of this is to secure the situation here in Iraq."
Despite looming uncertainties, President Bush is also holding firm on elections taking place at the end of January. The White House says Prime Minister Allawi spoke to Mr. Bush on the phone Monday to discuss Iraq's security situation and other problems facing the country ahead of elections.
U.S. and Iraqi officials say neither the prime minister nor President Bush suggested that those problems could not be overcome in time.