Powell: Goal is to stabilize Iraq for elections
U.S. commander vows to 'fight our way' through January vote
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military in Iraq will move into insurgent-filled "no-go zones" to stabilize them in advance of elections in January, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.
The Bush administration is hoping free elections will help stabilize the country and build a sense of legitimacy for the new government.
Administration officials have acknowledged that violence in many parts of the country could make voting dangerous or perhaps even impossible in some places.
Last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld commented, "Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great. Well, that's -- so be it. Nothing's perfect in life. So you have an election that's not quite perfect." ( Full story)
But Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, later said Iraq elections must be "open to all citizens" and that partial elections were not being considered. (Full story)
Speaking Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition," Powell said "Our goal is to move right through the fall season, improve security throughout the country, and have the elections as scheduled at the end of January of 2005.
"That's [Iraqi interim] Prime Minister [Ayad] Allawi's goal, and all of our efforts are being directed toward that end," he said.
"The major thrust of our political and military and diplomatic efforts over the next several months will be to make sure there are no 'no-go zones,' " he added.
U.S.-led forces have been avoiding those areas of Iraq.
Powell said the military is putting together plans to "return these zones to government control."
The man in charge of winning the war in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid of U.S. Central Command, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "we will have to fight our way all the way through elections."
He would not say where U.S. forces would go on the offensive.
"We never want to tip off our hands about what we want to do," he said. "It's clear, however, that, through a combination of political and military action, we will do whatever is necessary to bring areas of Iraq under the control of the Iraqi government ... by the January elections. "
Abizaid also said he expected that by January, 25,000 Iraqi security forces will join the 100,000 on duty now. He would not rule out that additional U.S. forces might be needed and said it was possible the United Nations would send troops.
"I believe, with the addition of those additional Iraqi forces, with the gelling of the Iraqi chain of command, with good leadership by Prime Minister Allawi and his ministers, that the elections will be able to be held," Abizaid said.
Many top Democrats have accused Bush of playing down the insurgency and obstinately sticking to the scheduled January elections despite realities in Iraq.
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry said last week that Bush and Allawi, during the prime minister's visit to Washington, were trying to put the "best face" on the White House's Iraq policy.
"The United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq," Kerry said. "You can't hold an election in a 'no-go zone.' "
But Powell, in his CNN interview, said Iraqi security forces are growing in strength and ability.
"Hopefully we will have all these zones under control," he said.
Already, an offensive is under way in Falluja, a city in the restive Anbar province, and "there is a political and military offensive under way to take back Samarra," he added.
"Falluja is the tough one. The other ones, I think, are more manageable. Ramadi and Samarra, I think we'll get those back under control, and then we'll have to deal with Falluja."
The efforts to gain control over the difficult areas are not just conducted through military force, he said. There are also "consultations with tribal leaders."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this month there could not be "credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now."
The United States will not use covert aid in an attempt to influence the election, a White House spokesman said Sunday.
"There have been and will continue to be concerns about efforts by outsiders to influence the outcome of the Iraqi elections, including money flowing from Iran," spokesman Allen Abney said. "This raises concerns about whether there will be a level playing field for the Iraqi election.
"We have adopted a policy that we will not try to influence the outcome of the upcoming Iraqi election by covertly helping individual candidates for office."