WASHINGTON – Four of the 18 provinces in Iraq are dangerous for voters going out to the polls on Jan. 30, but delaying the election won't do anything to reduce the danger, Bush administration officials told reporters Thursday in a briefing on the upcoming election.
Those four provinces contain 25 percent of the nation's population. The areas in those provinces that are the most violent are inhabited by Sunni Muslims, the sect that was part of the ruling Baath Party under Saddam Hussein (search).
But administration officials say changing the date is pointless because it would suggest terrorists were able to influence the process and any date in the near future wouldn't significantly change the degree of security in those areas. Security and terrorism analyst Edward Turzanski agreed.
"There's not going to be a delay because you don't want to reward the terrorists and encourage more terrorism," Turzanski told FOX News.
Administration officials say holding the election will also pave the way for a withdrawing some U.S. troops. Officials project a timeline for 2005 that includes an election on Jan. 30, results expected by Feb. 15 and a government in place by March 1. Officials say they are hopeful that a constitution will be in place by October, and once it's ratified, new elections can be held in December for a permanent assembly bound by the constitution.
Throughout that timeframe, more Iraqi security forces will become trained as the government gets situated. That should help lead to a reduction in American boots on the ground in Iraq.
"It's not possible right now to say that by the end of 2005, we'll be down to such and such a number. It really is dependent upon the situation. But with the money we're putting into the growth of the new Iraqi army and National Guard and police force, I believe that during 2005 they will be able to assume a greater burden. And with the assumption of that greater burden, the burden on our troops should go down and we should start to see our numbers going in the other direction," said Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) in an interview with Juan Williams, national correspondent for National Public Radio and a FOX News contributor.
"[The election] is the beginning of a process by which Iraqis — understandably a majority of the Shia are going to have most of the power — but it's Iraqis who are going to take ownership of their own security and that will accelerate the day upon which we can start removing some of our own troops," Turzanski added.
Administration officials said security in the four provinces — Nineveh, Anbar, Salahadin and Baghdad — will be stepped up on election day, and security forces are making special efforts to enable access to the polls. Even if people can't get to the polling places in their own neighborhood, they will be able to vote anywhere in the entire province.
"We want to make sure that there's as broad a participation as possible in those elections," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said on Wednesday.
Officials say 111 "entities" are running for office in the National Assembly. Some of the entities are political parties, some are coalitions of political parties, some are single candidates or handfuls of candidates.
In many of the cases, Sunnis and Shiites are on the same slate, including the slate being offered by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search). In that regard, say officials, even if Sunnis don't go to the polls in some areas, Sunnis will be represented nationally. The National Assembly will have 275 members.
In Iraq, 14 million of Iraq's 26 million people have registered to vote so far, according to the White House. About 1 million Iraqis are eligible to vote worldwide, State Department spokesman Michael Kozak said Thursday. Polling places for expatriate Iraqis will be set up in 14 countries, including Iran and the United States.
"The real measure of this election will come the day after. What happens when the final results are in?" Turzanski said, adding that Shiite leaders like Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (search) will encourage Sunnis to "participate in the new Iraq and to rise up against these foreign jihadists and Baathists left over from the Saddam regime."
FOX News' Jim Angle and Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.