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Bush: Iraq vote shouldn't be delayed

Suspected insurgents kill 3 in separate attacks

President Bush said elections should not be postponed. "It's time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Thursday that elections in Iraq should go ahead as scheduled January 30.

"The elections should not be postponed. It's time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls, and that's why we are very firm on the January 30 date," Bush said as he appeared before reporters with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at the White House. (Full story)

The elections are meant to elect a transitional parliament that will draft a new constitution, and the Pentagon has said that balloting will represent "the next step toward a more peaceful and stable environment" in the embattled country.

Seventeen secular, religious and regional groups have called for a delay to the elections, but a spokesman for interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has said the leader is opposed to a postponement. (Full story)

On Wednesday, the Pentagon said it was dispatching an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq and extending the stays of more than 10,000 others to bolster security ahead of the vote.

The moves will bring the number of American forces in Iraq from nearly 140,000 to an all-time high of about 150,000, the Pentagon said.

"I have always said that I will listen to the requests of our commanders on the ground, and our commanders requested some troops delay their departure home and the expedition of the other troops to help these elections go forward," Bush said. "And I honored their request."

Two battalions of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are being dispatched to Iraq for up to four months to provide security for Iraq's elections, the Pentagon said.

In addition to the new troops, two Army brigades, a transportation company and a Marine unit scheduled to return home in January are being kept in Iraq until March.

Mortar attacks in Baghdad

Suspected insurgents killed two local officials on Thursday northwest of the Iraqi city of Baquba, while mortar fire in Baghdad killed at least one person and wounded 12.

The local officials were attacked while driving from Baquba to Al-Khalis, hospital officials said.

Al-Khalis is northwest of Baquba, the capital of Diyala province. Baquba is 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Rasoul Ahmed, 56, a member of the local council of Al-Khalis, and Saleh Mehdi Yassin 55, manager of the office of the deputy governor of Diyala province, were killed in a drive-by shooting in Al-Khalis.

Two others, including Ahmed's son, were wounded, hospital officials said.

Farther south, police in Baghdad said they believe insurgents fired at least five mortars from the capital's al Doura district.

A mortar that landed near the offices of a mobile phone company killed one person and wounded four. Another near Baghdad's technical university wounded eight students. Mortars also landed near Baghdad city offices, a theater and a Turkish restaurant.

In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a message saying its personnel will not be permitted to use the main road from the Green Zone, the heavily guarded area housing American and other diplomatic offices and the Iraqi interim government, to the international airport, a stretch that has been the scene of many ambushes.

Other developments

  • A Thursday attack on a patrol by the U.S.-led multinational forces led to the death of an American soldier in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a military press affairs office said. The soldier -- who was evacuated to a military hospital and pronounced dead on arrival -- died from a gunshot wound, the office said. Also, a U.S. Marine died Wednesday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany from injuries received November 25 in enemy action in Anbar province. With the deaths, 1,262 U.S. forces have died in the Iraq war.
  • Four U.S. senators visited Iraq on a fact-finding mission Thursday. Republicans Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Democrats Joe Biden of Delaware and Dianne Feinstein of California stressed the importance of the upcoming elections in a news conference in Baghdad.
  • Ashraf Qazi, special representative for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Iraq, met Thursday with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi in Tehran, Iran. It was the end of Qazi's three-day visit to Iran, where he attended recent conference of interior ministers from Egypt and Iraq's neighboring countries and met with other Iranian officials.
  • Amid a debate over the use of misinformation by the U.S. military, the Pentagon said it is investigating an October incident in which a Marine spokesman gave CNN misleading information about an attack on the Iraqi city of Falluja. (Full story)
  • CNN's Jamie McIntyre, Kasra Naji, Cal Perry and Kianne Sadeq contributed to this report.

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