Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday warned of more violence ahead of Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections and said a stronger Iraqi force is needed to help bolster security.
The secretary spoke on the same day that a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb north of Baghdad, killing 19 Iraqis – all but one of them National Guardsmen. It followed a pattern of attacks that target Iraqis who cooperate with American forces.
“We’re going to see car bombs. We’re going to see this terrible kind of attack take place even more as we get closer to the election,” Powell said as he made the talk show rounds on NBC, CBS and CNN. “The people conducting these attacks don’t want to see an election. They don’t want to see democracy.”
Powell said one of the biggest challenges facing the country now is the buildup of Iraqi forces needed to help combat the insurgency. Right now, he said, there are not enough security forces.
“It has to get larger and it has to get more competent. It has to get more equipment. It has to be trained. It has to gain experience,” Powell said.
More American and coalition troops are not the answer, Powell said. “Iraqis ultimately have to be responsible for their own security.”
The United States has about 150,000 troops in the region.
The tenuous security situation, however, will not lead to a delay in the assembly elections, he said. Powell said the United States and the Iraqi interim government are determined to move ahead with the balloting as scheduled.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who just returned from a trip to Iraq, said even a short delay in balloting would be a mistake.
“Delaying the elections in Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists, and would be a source of tremendous frustration and anger for the majority of Iraqis, who believe they’re ready to control their own destiny,” Lieberman said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Most Iraqis want to see the vote take place, according to Powell.
“Poll workers are out working. While we see these terrible scenes on television of Iraqi policemen losing their lives, citizens losing their lives, citizens are also coming out to register. They want to have an election, even in the Sunni triangle,” he said.
Shiite Muslims, who make up around 60 percent of Iraq’s population, have been strong supporters of the elections. But there have been calls for a delay from the country’s Sunni minority, which provided much of Saddam Hussein’s former Baath Party membership.
The largest Sunni Muslim political group in Iraq announced last week that it would not participate in the elections. It said security was worsening and Iraqis did not understand the political process well enough to vote.