Powell sees troops returning this year
American troops will begin leaving Iraq this year as the Iraqi army, national guard and police force take on a larger security role, says US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"But I cannot give you a timeline when they will all be home," Powell told National Public Radio in an interview released Wednesday by the State Department.
There are some 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, many of them under fire, and casualties have been mounting.
The interim government in Baghdad and the Iraqi election commission want to move ahead with the election and so do the people, Powell said in the interview, which was conducted on Tuesday.
"We cannot delay the election because there are terrorists and murderers and former regime elements who are trying to keep that election from happening, to delay it," he said.
Taking a pessimistic view, a senior Jordanian diplomat on Tuesday had questioned the validity of the elections that Iraq is due to hold at the end of the month if many Iraqis do not vote.
More than 40 percent of Iraqis will be unable to participate in electing an interim assembly, said Karim Kawar, Jordan's ambassador to the United States, adding, "This raises questions about the authenticity of the elections."
The Arab diplomat said some of the Iraqis would be prevented from voting by threat of insurgents while others lack the will to vote.
"We are in a kind of bind," Kawar said during a discussion at the Nixon Center. "I am not as optimistic about the Iraqi election as I was about the Palestinian election."
Jordan, which borders Iraq and has had a long and profitable economic and strategic relationship with its much larger, oil-rich neighbor, has trained more than 35,000 Iraqi police in the past year, but refuses to be part of the U.S.-led military coalition that is fighting insurgents.
Jordan also has given haven to more than 300,000 Iraqis.
"Iraqis are best situated to protect themselves," Kawar said of dealing with the insurgency. He said Jordan cannot afford a failure in Iraq. "A failure would bring instability to the whole region," the envoy said.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said some areas of the country probably would be unsafe for voting. It was his first public acknowledgment that the interim government could not gain control of key areas controlled by insurgents.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, responding to the assertion, said, "There may be some various locations where it is difficult for people to vote."
But he said the goal of Iraq's election commission is to give all Iraqis a chance to cast ballots. Boucher said there were nearly 15 million registered voters and 6,000 polling places. "So there is ample opportunity, I think, for everybody in Iraq to try to express their viewpoint," he said.