Prime Minister Ayad Allawi publicly acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that parts of Iraq probably won't be safe enough for people to vote in the Jan. 30 elections, and he announced plans to boost the size of the country's army from 100,000 to 150,000 men by year's end.
Violence persisted, with at least 16 Iraqis killed in two bombings and the seizure of trucks carrying new Iraqi coins. A U.S. soldier was killed in action in Iraq's volatile western Anbar province, the military said.
Allawi discussed preparations for the election by telephone with President Bush on Tuesday, and both leaders underscored the importance of going ahead with the vote as planned, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
The prime minister said at a news conference that "hostile forces are trying to hamper this event."
"Certainly, there will be some pockets that will not be able to participate in the elections for these reasons, but we think that it will not be widespread," Allawi said.
Anbar province, a vast area that stretches from west of Baghdad to the Jordanian, Syrian and Saudi borders, and the northern city of Mosul have seen little preparation for the vote because of tenuous security.
The capital also is experiencing an increase in insurgent activity, and residents of some districts may be reluctant to vote for fear of attacks on polling stations.
On Tuesday, Jordan's ambassador to Washington, Karim Kawar, warned that more than 40 percent of Iraqis would be unable to participate in the vote. "This raises questions about the authenticity of the elections," he said.
On Tuesday, Allawi said the government was reaching out to tribal and religious leaders in some of Iraq's volatile areas to try to get them to participate in the vote. He said he expected the country to reach a "consensus" in the next two weeks that elections were necessary.
In Cairo, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the government planned to meet with parties supporting the call for a boycott. He said an Iraqi nongovernmental organization, the Iraqi Committee for Peace and Solidarity, is hosting a conference Sunday in Baghdad on reconciliation between the government and its opponents.
Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Samir al-Sumaidaie, insisted that the vote go forward, telling CNN that elections would weaken the insurgents. He cautioned, however, that the elections would not end violence.
Allawi is running in the election, which will produce a 275-seat assembly whose prime task would be to draft a permanent constitution.
Allawi said ambitious recruitment drives will increase the size of Iraq's army to counter the intensifying insurgency.
Unveiling a $2.2-billion security blueprint for 2005, he said steps were being taken to buy modern weaponry for the army, increase police and other security forces, create a "small but very effective" air force and boost a fledgling coast guard.
"In reality, there is not a single task that's bigger or more important to the government than to create an army and internal security forces that guarantee us a safe life immune from fear," Allawi said.
Allawi said the additional 50,000 men expected to join the army would come from recruitment drives jointly launched with tribal leaders and from among former border security troops and members of Saddam Hussein's army.
No details were available about the U.S. soldier killed Tuesday except that the death occurred in Anbar province.
The death brought to 1,356 the number of American troops killed in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003.
In Tuesday's violence, a roadside bomb hit a minibus killing seven Iraqis in Yussifiyah south of Baghdad, according to the director of the town's hospital. He said the bomb went off minutes after a U.S. convoy had passed.
A suicide car bomber who targeted a police headquarters in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit killed six people, said Maj. Neal O'Brien, a U.S. military spokesman. Police said 12 people were wounded.
Later Tuesday, gunmen stopped three trucks carrying new Iraqi coins south of Baghdad and killed the drivers, stole the money and set the trucks on fire, a police official said.
ABU GHRAIB TRIAL: A Syrian insurgent held at Abu Ghraib prison testified by video Tuesday that Army Spc. Charles Graner merrily whistled, sang and laughed while brutalizing him and forced him to eat pork and drink alcohol in violation of his Muslim faith.
An Iraqi detainee later told the court that he was among a group of prisoners stripped by Graner and other Abu Ghraib guards, stacked up naked in a human pyramid while female soldiers watched and later told to masturbate.
The prosecution rested after the Iraqi's video testimony.
Graner is the first soldier accused in the Abu Ghraib scandal to go on trial, and prosecutors allege he was the ringleader of the abuse.
Graner's defense case is scheduled to begin Wednesday. His lawyers have maintained that Graner and other soldiers had no choice but to obey orders by military and civilian intelligence officers to soften up detainees for questioning.
UKRAINE IN IRAQ: The Ukrainian parliament called Tuesday for an immediate withdrawal of the nation's peacekeepers from Iraq. The vote was nonbinding but reflected growing national dismay over the mission.
The call came two days after eight Ukrainian soldiers died in an explosion at an ammunition dump in Iraq. The blast was reported as an accident, but a top commander later raised suspicions it could have been a terrorist action.