Powell admits to concern over a postelection IraqBut country won't be less secure, he asserts
WASHINGTON Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "we are all worried" about what will happen in Iraq after the election Jan. 30, but he rejected an assertion that it might leave Iraq less secure and said he hoped it would fortify the resolve of Iraqis to overcome the insurgency.
"I think we all are worried about what's going to happen after the elections," Powell said on ABC television. "But the elections are a necessary next step."
Asked about a reported comment by the former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, that the elections could deepen regional and religious fissures and exacerbate "an incipient civil war," Powell said that there was no good alternative.
Speaking by satellite link from Nairobi, Powell told CNN, "We all are concerned that this insurgency is going to continue, but the alternative cannot just be, let's keep postponing elections or let's not have elections."
The U.S. hope, he said, was that Iraqis would come together behind an elected government they could support as their own. "I hope these pieces coming together, coalition military pressure, Iraqi increasing military pressure, and an elected government, will start to defeat this insurgency," he said.
Meanwhile, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader of the Senate, strongly endorsed the administration's approach in Iraq, even as the Pentagon asked a four-star general, Gary Luck, to undertake a rare "open-ended" review of Iraq policy.
Frist, who spoke from Kuwait after a visit to Iraq, spoke of "huge progress" in the training of Iraqi security personnel, and said that a UN official had assured him that "we are on the road to expecting elections that can be credible." This, Frist said on NBC television, would be a "major step forward."
Powell, who recently toured the Indonesian coastal area hit hardest by the Dec. 26 tsunami, used particularly chilling language Sunday to describe what he had seen.
The area around the city of Bandar Aceh "looked like a little piece of Hiroshima from 1945," he said. "The entire city, or a good section of the city, was just scraped clean as if an army of bulldozers had just flattened everything."
He said the large U.S. military contingent helping tsunami victims - including 19 ships, and 14,000 to 15,000 personnel - would probably stay "another several weeks."
"The ships can't stay forever," Powell said, adding that he hoped roads and bridges would be sufficiently and quickly repaired to allow aid distribution by ground, rather than by U.S. helicopters.
Frist, who recently traveled hundreds of kilometers along the Sri Lankan coast, said he was struck by "the continuous, uninterrupted mile after mile after mile after mile after mile of devastation."
He called it "a tragedy of biblical proportions."
He said he thought the $350 million in aid pledged by the U.S. government was appropriate, but he said "there needs to be an ongoing assessment."
Powell was in Nairobi for the signing of a Sudan peace agreement that ended a 20-year conflict. He said the pact would allow the government to now turn its attention more closely to problems in the Darfur region.
The secretary, who is expected to leave office late this month, made clear that if he had avoided a recent question about whether the Darfur crisis amounted to genocide it was because no U.S. team had recently been there to assess the situation.
Asked whether he had any reason to believe that the killings, rapings and forcible relocations had stopped, he said, "I have no basis to believe that."
"The situation continues to be very, very grim," he added. "Whatever you call it, there are people who are dying."