WASHINGTON – Defense officials are not ruling out the possibility that they will need more U.S. troops to secure January's elections in increasingly violent Iraq (search), but believe Iraqi and perhaps international troops may be able to do the job instead, a top general said Wednesday.
"I think we will need more troops than we currently have," said Gen. John Abizaid (search), commander of U.S. troops in the region. But, he said, Pentagon officials believe the extra needed troops will be Iraqis or international forces.
Forces in Iraq have been working to train Iraqis as fast as possible to take over their own security.
"So I don't see a need for more American troops, but we can't discount it," he said Wednesday evening after briefing the House on Iraq.
Despite a spiraling insurgency in Iraq, Abizaid and other U.S. officials said that elections can still be held in the country in four months as planned.
Abizaid spoke after he and other top Defense Department and State Department officials briefed first the Senate, then the House, on the situation in Iraq. They were the first announced Pentagon briefing on Iraq in more than two months and perhaps the last that worried lawmakers will get before they recess in two weeks for the U.S. elections.
Most of the senators attended the first briefing and some 200 congressmen attended on the House side, aides said.
"We know that we will have to fight for the elections," Abizaid said after the mid-afternoon Senate briefing.
"We know that the enemy will come at us very, very tough. We also know that we have the military capacity to deal with anything that will come our way."
Asked whether he was more optimistic or pessimistic after the senate briefing, Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said, "I come out ... with a very realistic point of view. We are going to have a lot of tough going and fighting, but we are going to make that election happen."
U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad John Negroponte (search) said at the first press conference with Abizaid that if training of Iraqi security forces continues as it is now, "security conditions should be adequate for the satisfactory conduct" of elections by the end of January.
On Capitol Hill for several hours answering lawmakers questions were Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking earlier in the day in New York, said the United Nations and European Union were ready to help ensure that Iraq holds elections for a parliament by January by providing financial support and expertise.
"Obviously, security is a problem," Powell said.
But, he said, "we intend for elections to be held."
He said the European Union was offering financial support to U.N. elections experts in Iraq and that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan "made it clear that he wants to scale up the size of his team" from the current 32.
The United Nations has been reluctant to commit more than a few dozen officials because of the danger of the assignment. In August 2003, the U.N. mission chief, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 other people were killed in a car bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
"The issue is how to make sure that this larger team will have the necessary security and protections so it can do its work," Powell said.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard cautioned in a statement that "ideally, we would like to put more of our people into Iraq." But, the spokesman said, that is "critically dependent on the overall security environment."
Powell dismissed suggestions that recent violence in Iraq would derail the parliamentary elections. "It is reasonable, it is feasible, it is the goal," Powell said of balloting.