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Iraqi president: Vote delay would 'prolong agony'

U.N. envoy tells newspaper Iraq is 'a mess'

Iraqi interim President Ghazi al-Yawar speaks Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq would hand a victory to "the forces of darkness" if it postponed elections set for January 30, the country's interim president said Sunday.

"We do not think that postponing elections or delaying [them] will solve the problem," interim President Ghazi al-Yawar said. "Actually, it will prolong the agony for Iraqis, and you will have more resentment in the Iraqi society."

He said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the date was not "sacred," but "This is a challenge that Iraqis have to take.

"After reviewing the situation, I think the worst thing to do is to postpone elections," al-Yawar said. "This will give a tactical victory to the insurgents, to the forces of darkness."

His comments followed remarks by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who helped establish the interim government, that Iraq is "a mess."

In an interview published Sunday, Brahimi told the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad that elections could not be held under current security conditions.

Insurgent attacks killed nearly 40 people in Baghdad and northern Iraq over the weekend, including 17 civilians working for U.S.-led forces in Tikrit. Another nine members of the Iraqi security forces were killed in weekend attacks around the country, and six U.S. soldiers were killed in three separate attacks since Friday.

But al-Yawar said nearly two months remain to bring the insurgency under control, and that stopping the elections is the guerrillas' main goal.

"We have a silent majority in Iraq. We want this silent majority to say their word, and I'm sure they are very capable and very influential," he said.

A U.S.-led force invaded Iraq in March 2003 to overthrow former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. More than 1,270 American troops have been killed in Iraq since then, most of them in the insurgency that followed the collapse of Saddam's government.

Estimates of Iraqi dead range between 15,000 and 100,000.

The interim president, who is scheduled to meet with President Bush on Monday, said Americans will be able to leave once enough Iraqi troops are trained to restore order.

"We're talking about months. Probably, I don't know, six months or eight months, or a year. But I don't think it will take years, definitely not," he said.

Several U.S. lawmakers said Sunday that they agree that elections should go forward as scheduled.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the insurgents have been successful "to some extent" in intimidating the Iraqi population.

"I think we have to persevere," Roberts said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"I think if we delay the election, it will simply play into their hands," he said. "But it is a very rough situation right now."

The Pentagon announced last week that it would boost the number of troops in Iraq by about 12,000 ahead of the elections, but Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said that number was probably inadequate.

"The problem that we have here is that the Pentagon has been reacting to initiatives of the enemy rather than taking initiatives from which the enemy has to react to," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday."

And Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on ABC's "This Week" that U.S. troops "are unable to secure our victories," pointing to continuing unrest in Falluja, site of intense coalition battles with insurgents in November.

The Iraqi Red Crescent, the only humanitarian group to have returned to Falluja, suspended its operations there Sunday because of fighting between insurgents and coalition forces in the city. (Full story)

Biden supported the invasion of Iraq but has criticized the Bush administration's handling of the occupation and insurgency. He predicted that the number of U.S. troops would remain at their higher level of 150,000 after the elections.

"Every single solitary commander in the region says, 'We've got to stay here for a long time, in significant numbers, spending billions of dollars, to get this done,' " Biden said. "And it's about time we level with the American people and tell them the truth."

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