US combat deaths in Iraq reach 1,000, Putin skeptical on scheduled elections

The killing of a US soldier Tuesday in Baghdad brought the number of US forces combat deaths in Iraq to 1,000 since the war started in March 2003, while Russian President Vladimir Putin said he "cannot imagine" elections are possible in Iraq under the current conditions.

Another US soldier died the same day in a vehicle accident in western Iraq, and four Iraqi National Guardsmen and police were also killed.

In the northern city of Mosul, insurgents on Tuesday bombed two churches, injuring three people.

As attacks continue in the war-torn country, the administration of US President George W. Bush has said it plans to stick to the Jan. 30 elections.

"As election day approaches, we can expect further violence from the terrorists," Bush said Tuesday while visiting the Camp Pendleton Marines base in southern California.

"When Iraqis choose their leaders in free elections, it will destroy the myth that the terrorists are fighting a foreign occupation and make clear that what the terrorists are really fighting is the will of the Iraqi people," he said.

In order to strengthen security during the election period, US troops strength will be increased by about 12,000 personnel, bringing the total number to 150,000, Bush said.

About the term of the troop increase, the Pentagon said it would be temporary, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had said he hoped the US troops could be pulled out of Iraq in the next four years.

However, as insurgent attacks continued throughout the country, many were skeptical over the peace prospects of Iraq and uncertain on whether the elections could be held as planned.

Russian President Putin, who strongly opposed the US-led invasion to Iraq, said Tuesday he could not imagine Iraq, under the current conditions, could hold elections as scheduled.

"Honestly speaking, I cannot imagine how it is possible to organize elections under conditions of total occupation by foreign forces," Putin said while meeting with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Parliamentary elections are set for Jan. 30 in Iraq despite ongoing violence.

Once polls are held, the new parliament will draft a permanent constitution to govern Iraq, a country currently administrated by an interim government backed by the US forces.

Source: Xinhua

People's Daily Online ---