Home > Top Bush officials clash over Iraq election
By Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON - Iraq’s elections should be nationwide, a top Bush administration official has said, clashing publicly with Defence
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s suggestion that voting might not take place in the most violent areas.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the elections scheduled for January will not be perfect, but they should encompass the
Rumsfeld also appeared to back away from his outspoken remarks on Thursday that while the elections will take place on time, they might
not be held in places where security could not be guaranteed.
"Every Iraqi deserves the right to vote," Rumsfeld said on Friday. "We and the government of Iraq intend to see that the elections are held,
intend to see that they’re held on time, and to do everything possible to see that that happens, and to see that every Iraqi has the right to vote."
"I think we’re going to have an election that is free and open, and that has to be open to all citizens," Armitage told a House of
Representatives committee. "We’ve got to do our best efforts to get in troubled areas. ... I think we’re going to have these elections in all parts
of the country," he said.
Rumsfeld also said Washington would not wait until Iraq "is peaceful and perfect" before beginning to withdraw U.S. troops "because it’s
never been peaceful and perfect and it isn’t likely to be."
But he gave no timetable for the withdrawal, a topic administration officials have avoided as President George W. Bush has vowed to "stay
the course" in the conflict that has taken centre stage in his election battle with Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry.
Another senior defense official, who asked not to be identified, said the number of U.S. troops in Iraq likely will rise slightly in December and
January as fresh units are sent to relieve soldiers winding up their current year of duty.
As Bush and Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in politically charged events this week touted progress since Saddam Hussein’s ouster,
U.S. lawmakers sought answers on how elections could be held amid the worsening insurgency and how long U.S. troops will remain.
Rumsfeld raised the possibility of partial elections on Thursday, just hours after Allawi and Bush, together at the White House, insisted
national elections would be held on schedule in January.
"If there were to be an area where the extremists focused during the election period, and an election was not possible in that area at that
time, so be it. You have the rest of the election and you go on," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Asked about Rumsfeld’s comments, Armitage said he knew of no plans to hold partial elections that exclude violent areas.
"I know of no changes and no plans. We’re pushing ahead, fully supporting the Iraqi people, and the United Nations and the Iraqi electoral
commission to have nationwide elections for a 275 person national assembly before the end of January," he told reporters after a House
Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
Republican Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, was sceptical that could happen. She said most of the basics such as voting equipment,
voter lists, and the process for getting names on ballots were not in place.
Armitage said election preparations were progressing, and said "we’re beginning to get some traction" with other countries to send troops to help protect U.N. personnel working on the election. (Reuters)