US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged Thursday that more US troops may have to be sent to Iraq to provide security for January elections that are threatened by a wave of insurgent violence.
Rumsfeld said he believed elections could still be held in January but he sketched out a scenario in which they might not be held in parts of the country where the violence is too great.
"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't, because the violence was too great," he said.
"Well, so be it," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "You have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."
General John Abizaid, the head of the US Central Command, told reporters Wednesday after a closed door briefing to members of Congress that more troops would be needed to secure the country ahead of the elections.
The US is counting on Iraqi security forces to fill the gap, but both Abizaid and Rumsfeld admitted that the 140,000-member US force in Iraq may have to be beefed up at least temporarily.
"In the event General Abizaid decides he needs more forces to assist in the elections, like he has for example in Afghanistan, he'll ask and he'll get it," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld, who testified only hours after Iraq Prime Minister Ayad Allawi addressed the Congress, faced sharp questioning mainly from Democrats about the growing insurgency.
"What's the plan?" asked Senator Edward Kennedy. "What's Plan B? How are we going to get people out to vote with the dramatic increase in violence in these places?"
Kennedy cited polling data contained in a July CIA estimate that found that 90 percent of Iraqis view US forces as occupiers, and about half viewed insurgent attacks as attempts to liberate the country.