updated 1/19/2005 11:47:36 AM ET 2005-01-19T16:47:36

President Bush on Wednesday consulted with Iraqi leaders for the fifth time in recent days about the Jan. 30 elections and the White House acknowledged the possibility that the newly elected government might seek a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

“Those are issues we always discuss with the government of the country where our troops are,” McClellan said. “We are there. Our mission is to put Iraq on the path to democracy and to train Iraqis so they can provide for their own security.”

McClellan said Bush called Iraqi Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer Wednesday morning to discuss the preparations for the elections, including security conditions and how to encourage the largest voter turnout possible. McClellan said Bush has spoken three times this year with interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and a couple of times with al-Yawer.

McClellan said the series of car bombings in Iraq on Wednesday that killed at least 12 people show how intent loyalists of Saddam Hussein are to derail the elections, but that the United States was working with Iraqi security forces “to provide as secure an environment as possible so that as many Iraqis as possible can participate in the elections.”

“It’s important that we continue doing everything we can to support the interim government and support the Iraqi people as they move forward with elections,” McClellan said. “Elections will be an important step toward derailing their ambitions of returning to the past.”

Asked about the possibility that Iraq’s leaders might seek a troop-withdrawal timetable, McClellan said, “Iraq is a sovereign nation. Those are always issues that we discuss in close consultation with the host government, as we do in any country.”

U.S. military officials put the death toll from the day’s violence at 26, but the number was based on initial field reports and witnesses and Iraqi officials put the toll lower. Iraqi authorities said 12 people were killed in the bombings and another person killed in a drive-by shooting on a Kurdish political party office.

McClellan vowed that U.S. forces working with Iraqi forces will “continue to go after those who seek to spread fear and chaos and violence and help the Iraqi people and bring them to justice.”

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