updated 12/14/2005 11:08:00 AM ET 2005-12-14T16:08:00

The world has shirked its duty to help prosecute Saddam Hussein, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday.

“The international community’s effective boycott of Saddam’s trial is only harming the Iraqi people, who are now working to secure the hope of justice and freedom that Saddam long denied them,” Rice said.

The top U.S. diplomat also predicted that the Iraqi elections this week would yield the most democratic government “in the entire Middle East.” She did not mention the long-standing democracy in Israel.

The Bush administration has a lot riding on Thursday’s parliamentary elections, which will establish Iraq’s first permanent democratically elected government. If the voting goes well, it will provide a political pivot point for eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Rice: States have a 'special obligation'
Rice, speaking to a friendly audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said other nations are starting to do more to help rebuild Iraq and are opening their checkbooks to do it.

“As welcome as this broad support is, I am sad to say that the international community has barely done anything to help Iraq prosecute Saddam Hussein,” she said.

“All who express their devotion to human rights and the rule of law have a special obligation to help the Iraqis bring to justice one of the world’s most murderous tyrants.”

She did not name names, nor say just what other nations could do to help. Although the former president’s trial is being carried out in an Iraqi court, with an Iraqi judge, the United States underwrote and helped organize the criminal investigation and prosecution effort.

Death penalty possible
Saddam and seven others went on trial Oct. 19 in the killing of 148 Shiite Muslims who were executed in 1982 after a failed assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader. If convicted, they could be executed.

Saddam’s government was toppled in a U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Saddam was captured by U.S. forces after months on the run. He has condemned the legal proceedings as a sham, and his lawyer has said it is the United States that should be on trial.

Widespread international opposition to the death penalty has kept many countries from contributing money or other help to the Saddam prosecution.

President Bush on Wednesday will give the fourth and last in a series of speeches keyed to this week’s elections to choose a permanent Iraqi government. He is working to rebuild support for a war that a majority of Americans now say was a mistake.

Bush has been trying to be more frank about problems and violence in Iraq without acknowledging tactical mistakes that critics from both parties say he has made. Video: Pentagon spying?

Rice told her audience that violence may linger in Iraq for a long time but that the insurgency will eventually die for lack of popular support. She said the number of citizen tips about the insurgency is up.

Separately the State Department issued a warning Tuesday that U.S. citizens should not travel to Iraq for fear of violence. The statement was timed to the upcoming elections.

“During this period, the potential for increased violence remains extremely high,” the statement said.

Rice praised Britain and other countries that have contributed troops or cash to the Iraq effort, and she prodded some of Iraq’s Arab neighbors and others to do more.

“In just two days, when Iraqis make history by selecting the most democratic leaders in the entire Middle East, they will do so with the moral and financial and diplomatic backing of an overwhelming majority of the world,” Rice said.

Phased pullout of U.K. troops
Britain said Tuesday that it could begin a phased withdrawal of its troops from Iraq by next spring. There is no fixed timetable because the decision will depend on the strength of Iraqi forces, the Ministry of Defense said.

The Pentagon said Monday that the additional 22,000 U.S. troops added to help with the run-up to the election could leave quite quickly when voting is finished. About 138,000 would remain.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, then may recommend to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a timetable for further reductions, the Pentagon said.

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