WASHINGTON - President Bush yesterday again rejected calls for a postponement of Iraq's parliamentary election, insisting that "it's time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls."
While adhering to established administration policy, the president's declaration sent an unwavering signal in the face of calls for delay from Sunni and Kurdish figures in Iraq, as well as some leaders around the world.
"We are very firm on the Jan. 30 date," Bush told reporters at the White House.
Both Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in separate appearances yesterday, joined in Bush's demand that the election go forward as planned.
The administration's push came after Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil Yawer, a Sunni tribal leader, added his support for holding the election as planned despite pleas for postponement by those concerned that continuing violence will make voting impossible in large areas of the country.
"Holding elections is the only salvation for many of Iraq's problems," Yawer said at a Wednesday news conference in Baghdad. "There is a moral and legal obligation to hold the elections before 31st January, 2005."
Yesterday, mortar rounds exploded in five places in central Baghdad, killing two Iraqis and wounding 14 in disparate attacks that underscored the capital's continued vulnerability to insurgent violence.
In the northern city of Mosul, an American soldier was killed in a gunbattle, said Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a military spokesman. American and Iraqi forces there also discovered 14 bodies, including three wearing uniforms of the Iraqi National Guard.
The new bodies bring the number found in and around Mosul in the last two weeks to at least 90, many of them Iraqi police and national guard officers killed by insurgents aiming to intimidate the country's fledgling security forces.
In Bayji, an oil refining city in northern Iraq, two American soldiers and two Iraqi national guardsmen were wounded when a car bomb exploded at a national guard checkpoint yesterday morning, said Master Sgt. Robert Cowens, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division. Cowens also said that the director of the Bayji Bank was kidnapped by militants in front of a city building yesterday.
In the central Iraqi town of Balad Ruz, three Iraqi civilians were killed when insurgents in a white sedan opened fire with rifles as they passed, the sergeant said.
West of the capital in Fallujah, the number of American troops killed has risen to 71 as sporadic fighting continues in the wake of the American-led offensive to root out insurgents there last month, military officials said.
That toll is 20 higher than the last official report on Nov. 18.
Overall, American combat deaths for November total 135, matching the number killed in April, previously the deadliest month of the war. "There are still pockets of fighting in the city," said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman. "They're still going house to house, encountering some fighters and recovering weapons caches and a variety of explosives. It's a slow process, but they're getting there."
In Washington, Bush predicted yesterday that the election would mark a turning point in the country's transformation since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 resulted in the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
"It's one of those moments in history where a lot of people will be amazed that a society has been transformed so quickly from one of tyranny and torture and mass graves, to one in which people are actually allowed to express themselves at the ballot," Bush said.
Iraqis are to elect a 275-member national assembly, with seats filled in relation to the number of votes received by the political parties and coalitions across the country. If few Sunni parties participate, it is unlikely that they would gain enough seats to have a significant impact.
The elected assembly will choose a president and prime minister, oversee the writing of a new constitution and organize elections by 2006. If Sunnis are underrepresented, they would be left with little voice in the drafting of the constitution - a seminal document that could be a blueprint for the country's governance for years to come.
While security is a severe problem mainly in four provinces and in parts of Baghdad, those provinces include most of Iraq's Sunni Arabs. Sunnis are a minority who represent an estimated 20 percent of the population - exact numbers are unknown because there has been no reliable census for several decades - but who have dominated the country's political landscape for the past 80 years.
Powell said yesterday that the opposition to the Jan. 30 date is less substantial than it first appeared. While some Kurds initially called for a delay, Powell said Kurdish leaders now support elections next month.