By Charlotte Raab - WASHINGTON
Some US analysts are worried Iraq could spiral down into further chaos and even civil war after its January 30 elections, but few here are promoting a delay in the vote.
Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, a leading voice in Congress on foreign affairs, said Washington was stuck between two difficult choices.
"We are left with a bad choice in holding elections and a worse choice of not holding it," Biden told CNN on Sunday.
Another member of Congress, Democratic Representative Adam Smith, said the elections must take place as scheduled.
"It would be, I think, a really bad sign if they didn't," Smith stressed.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell for his part said Iraq's elections will take place on January 30 as planned.
"We are all worried about what's going to happen after the elections, but the elections are a necessary next step," Powell told ABC television.
But some US analysts worry that a lack of security in the Sunni Muslim regions could keep voters in those areas away from the polls, allowing Shiites to dominate the elections and leading to more violence.
Two influential former US officials recently warned that Iraq could freefall into further violence and even civil war after the elections.
Former President George H.W. Bush's national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, sparked a debate after he warned last week that the Iraqi elections "rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict."
And former secretary of state Henry Kissinger told CNN on Sunday: "We will have to decide to what extent we want to be involved in what may become a civil war after the elections."
But Kissinger, who negotiated an end to the Vietnam War in the 1970s, said the elections were "now a necessity."
"The consequences of not having it would be much graver than any benefit we would get from delay," he said.
"We will then, hopefully as a united country, be able to deal with creating some political structure in Iraq which will permit a gradual withdrawal of American forces over a period of time," Kissinger added.
Few in the United States are calling for a delay in the vote, a postponement which leading Iraqi Sunnis have requested.
Larry Diamond, a former adviser to the now-defunct US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, wrote in The New York Times that "Iraq is about to reach a point of no return."
Diamond said a delay could be negotiated in exchange for the cooperation of the Sunni opposition.
"What is needed now is for all of Iraq's social and political stakeholders to sit down and talk," wrote Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. "The outlines of a compromise are visible."
Former president Bill Clinton's Middle East envoy, Dennis Ross, called for the creation of a "national reconciliation conference."
"If there's a desire to postpone the elections, it's going to have to come from within Iraq, it's going to have to come from some understanding worked out between an emerging Sunni group that is there and the Shiites," he told CBS television.
But he warned that delaying the vote poses enormous risks.
"We have a civil war guaranteed if the Shiites are the ones who become disaffected," Ross said.
"Right now, it's a Sunni-led insurgency. And it's very difficult as it is," he said.
"If you lose the Shiites as well, then you have not only a civil war, you have something that from an American standpoint will look a lot like Vietnam."