WASHINGTON – The White House acknowledged Wednesday that the new government in Iraq may seek a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces but senior administration officials told FOX News that such a deadline would not be set.
The comments came after President Bush (search) spoke with Iraqi Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer (search) to discuss preparations for Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, including security conditions and how to encourage the largest voter turnout possible.
Asked about the possibility that Iraq's leaders might seek a troop-withdrawal timetable, McClellan said: "Iraq is a sovereign nation. Those are always issues that we discuss in close consultation with the host government, as we do in any country."
"It's important that we continue doing everything we can to support the interim government and support the Iraqi people as they move forward with elections," McClellan said. "Elections will be an important step toward derailing their ambitions of returning to the past."
The issue of a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal was mentioned in a story in the Wednesday morning editions of The New York Times, which several U.S. intelligence officials and senior Defense officials objected to.
"If one is expecting a date certain on the calendar [for withdrawal], that person will be unfulfilled," one senior Defense official told FOX News.
"There is no date certain" under discussion for a possible withdrawal, said another senior official.
American and Iraqi officials have agreed that a withdrawal would leave the entire country of Iraq vulnerable to insurgents who are expected to continue their terror campaigns after the vote. And some experts see where several portions of the country could devolve into lawlessness because the nascent Iraqi Army and other Iraqi security forces will be unable for some time to come to deal with these challenges.
McClellan said the series of deadly car bombings in Iraq Wednesday show how intent loyalists of Saddam Hussein are to derail the elections. But he said that the United States was working with Iraqi security forces "to provide as secure an environment as possible so that as many Iraqis as possible can participate in the elections."
U.S. military officials put the death toll from the day's violence at 26, but the number was based on initial field reports and witnesses and Iraqi officials put the toll lower. Iraqi authorities said 12 people were killed in the bombings and another person killed in a drive-by shooting on a Kurdish political party office.
McClellan vowed that U.S. forces working with Iraqi forces will "continue to go after those who seek to spread fear and chaos and violence and help the Iraqi people and bring them to justice."
FOX News' Bret Baier, Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed with this report.