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Bush Says Iraq Poll Will Go Ahead --> (file photo) 20 December 2004 -- U.S. President George W. Bush says Iraqi elections set for 30 January 2005 will go ahead despite continuing violence.

Bush told a news conference today that insurgents are intent on disrupting the elections scheduled 20 months after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. president said he did not expect the democratic process to be trouble free. However, Bush said he is confident that the elections will be held on time.

"There are very hopeful signs, but no question about it -- the bombers are having an effect. You know, these people are targeting innocent Iraqis. They are trying to shake the will of the Iraqi people and, frankly, trying to shake the will of the American people. And, you know, car bombs that destroy young children, or car bombs that indiscriminately bomb religious sites are effective propaganda tools," Bush said.

Earlier today, Iraqi officials said they have detained at least 50 suspects following a car-bomb blast in Al-Najaf yesterday that killed at least 52 people.

The Al-Najaf attack came shortly after a similar blast in nearby Karbala. The death toll in the two Shi'ite holy cities was at least 66 dead and at least 175 wounded.

Iraqi Troops Not Ready

Bush also acknowledged that U.S.-trained Iraqi troops are not ready to take over their country's security.

The U.S. president was asked about reports that some Iraqi troops are fleeing the battlefield in the face of fire by insurgents.

"I would call the results mixed in terms of standing up Iraqi units who are willing to fight. There have been some cases where the heat got on, they left the battlefield. That's unacceptable. Iraq will never secure itself if they have troops that, when the heat gets on, they leave the battlefield. I fully understand that," Bush said.

Bush urged the American people to remain patient well beyond the elections to give Iraqis time to craft a constitution and strengthen their security forces.

Critics have raised questions about whether enough U.S. troops are in Iraq to bring security for the elections. More than 1,300 U.S. troops have died since the war began in March 2003 and soldiers have complained about long deployments and a lack of vital equipment.



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For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".