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Odierno: Violence may alter Iraq pullout

Commander of U.S. forces in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno salutes at the end of mission ceremony at the military Camp Echo in Diwaniyah, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq on October 4, 2008. (UPI Photo/Ali Jasim) | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/de534d9e69c153cee04c45ab3b54bb65/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Commander of U.S. forces in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno salutes at the end of mission ceremony at the military Camp Echo in Diwaniyah, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq on October 4, 2008. (UPI Photo/Ali Jasim) | License Photo

BAGHDAD, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. top commander in Iraq says increased violence could prevent combat troops from withdrawing from Baghdad as planned in August.

U.S. Army Gen. Ray Odierno said he thinks militant groups are planning a bloody campaign in the coming months as Iraq prepares for a national election Jan. 16, The Times of London reported Tuesday.

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"It's clear that al-Qaida and other groups do not want the elections to occur," Odierno said in an interview with The Times. "What I think they will try to do is discourage people from voting by undermining the authority of the government of Iraq with attacks, so that people lose faith in the democratic process."

The Iraqi parliament so far hasn't passed a new election law, in part because lawmakers can't agree on whether ballots should list the names of the candidates or just the parties.

A possible delay would violate Iraq's constitution, Odierno said.

"I worry that it calls into question the Iraqi commitment to this form of government," he said. "If the parliament doesn't pass the election law and they delay the elections, that violates their own constitution, which says they have to have elections in January."

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Troop strength decisions in Iraq have a spillover effect in Afghanistan, the general told The Times.

"Our plan here will influence how they decide to implement what decision they make on Afghanistan," he said of a possible second surge being debated by the White House.

Should troop levels in Iraq remain higher than planned, freshly trained U.S. brigades would be needed to replace those finishing their tours of duty, and would not be available for deployment to Afghanistan, he said.

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