The White House acknowledged on Wednesday that Iraqi elections set for Jan. 30, despite deadly violence, are "not going to be perfect," and confirmed that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction was over.
The Washington Post reported earlier that the search for such banned weapons -- US President George W. Bush's central argument for invading Iraq -- had ended in December, with no new findings of any chemical, biological or nuclear arms.
Asked whether US-led forces were no longer actively hunting for such weapons, White House spokesman Scott McClellan replied: "That's my understanding."
Asked if he agreed with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that violence will make voting impossible in some areas of the war-torn country, McClellan said: "We all recognize that the election is not going to be perfect."
"This is the first time Iraqis will be able to freely choose their leaders. It's for a transitional government, and it's one of three elections that will take place over the course of this year," he said.
"And so we're going to do everything we can to help the Iraqi people and the interim government ensure as broad a participation as possible in this upcoming election," said McClellan.
US administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was important not to concede to insurgents any cause for triumph.
"It's important that we do not give the insurgents anything they could style as a victory."
The officials also said that differences between Sunnis and Shiites had been exaggerated. "We do expect that the process will produce a government broadly representative of the Iraqi people."
Allawi acknowledged Tuesday that some parts of Iraq would not be able to take part in this month's election, as new attacks killed at least 25 people, six of them in a car bombing in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
"There are some pockets that will not participate in the election, but they are not large," Allawi said.
The US-backed premier vowed to spend US$2.2 billion this year to bolster the security forces fighting a bloody insurgency in central Iraq that has cost thousands of lives.
"What we're working to do is to work closely with the interim government Iraqi security forces to address some of those continuing security challenges," said McClellan.
"You've heard directly from our military commanders that there are still a few areas -- well four of the 18 provinces, I guess -- where there are still ongoing security challenges, where the terrorists and Saddam loyalists are continuing to carry out violent acts," said the spokesman.
"We want to make sure that we have the best possible election. We want to make sure that there's as broad a participation as possible in those elections," he said.
Bush and Allawi also discussed efforts to beef up security during a telephone conversation on Tuesday, and agreed to stand by the Jan. 30 deadline, according to the White House.