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Rumsfeld: Four-fifths Iraq poll?

Iraqi leader: Elections will be held on schedule

Rumsfeld briefs reporters at the U.S. Senate.
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Allawi addresses Congress, thanks America.

CNN's Aaron Brown on insurgents and kidnappers.

For U.S. troops, strategy is simple: do their job, stay alive.
Should elections still go ahead in Iraq if they only cover three-quarters or four-fifths of the country?
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested that parts of Iraq might be excluded from elections set for January due to rising violence.

On Thursday Rumsfeld expressed optimism that elections will push through as scheduled.

But at a U.S. Senate Committee hearing he raised the possibility polls might not be held in all of Iraq.

"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," Rumsfeld said, hours after the leaders of the United States and Iraq met in Washington.

"Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet," he said. (Full story)

Rumsfeld is set to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Friday to talk about security as insurgents in Iraq use suicide bombings, hostage-takings, beheadings and other tactics to block Iraq's progress.

The United Nations has expressed concern about security for any personnel it might send to Iraq for the elections. Presently there are about 100,000 trained and equipped Iraqi forces.

The head of the U.S. central command Gen. John Abizaid, said on Wednesday more troops might be needed in Iraq to secure the vote and he did not discount the possibility more American troops would be needed.

Appearing with Allawi at the White House, U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday called for resolve in the fight against insurgents and terrorists striking the interim government and U.S. forces in Iraq.

"I believe that if we fail in Iraq, it's the beginning of a long struggle," Bush said. "We will not have done our duty to our children and our grandchildren." (Full story)

He also said that "if we stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq, they would be free to plot and plan attacks elsewhere, in America and other free nations. To retreat now would betray our mission, our word and our friends."

The president said "we're not going to abandon the Iraqi people. It's in our interests that we win this battle in the war on terror."

Earlier Thursday, Allawi laid out his government's security, economic, and political aspirations, praising the contribution of America and its allies, and telling members of Congress elections will be held as scheduled.

"Elections will occur in Iraq on time in January," Allawi promised.

While acknowledging balloting won't be perfect, pointing to early elections in other nations, he promised: "They will take place and they will be free and fair" and they will be "a giant step" in Iraq's "evolution."

The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are pleased that the Saddam Hussein regime was toppled, he added, pointing to Saddam's killings and his gassing of Kurdish communities.

"Today we are better off, you are better off, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein," Allawi said. (Transcript of Allawi's address to Congress)

Wave of abductions

Iraq continues to be plagued by a wave of abductions. In the most recent case, two Egyptian engineers were kidnapped from their Baghdad office Thursday night, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official.

Meanwhile a British hostage, Kenneth Bigley, faces death at the hands of his Iraqi captors.

Bigley and two Americans were abducted last Thursday from their Baghdad residence. The three men were in Iraq working on reconstruction projects.

The two Americans were beheaded Monday and Tuesday. (Full story)

Bigley's captors said he will face the same fate unless the British government meets their demand to release Muslim women from Iraqi prisons. (Full story)

U.S. officials said the only women being held in Iraq are two "high-value detainees." Both are being held at Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport, according to Iraqi sources.

The interim Iraqi government Thursday reiterated it has no imminent plans to release any detainees -- as have Washington officials. (Full story)

Desperate but unanswered pleas to release Bigley have taken their toll on his family and put pressure on UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. (Full story)

Other developments

Turkey's government says it is considering an alternative route for its truck drivers bringing goods into neighboring Iraq in an effort to stem kidnappings. (Full story)

A Marine assigned to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was killed in action Wednesday "while conducting security and stability operations" in Iraq's Al Anbar province, the Combined Press Information Center said Thursday. In another incident, Sana Toma, deputy-director of the Northern Oil Company, was killed Thursday morning in the Baladiyat neighborhood of Mosul, according to officials at Mosul General Hospital.

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