More than 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops will be in Mosul prior to the vote, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Meanwhile, about 650 British troops have arrived in Basra in southern Iraq to aid U.S. occupation forces and the Iraqi interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi leading up to the elections, according to the January 17 British daily Telegraph. With this deployment, Londons forces in Iraq exceed 9,000 troops.
At about the same time, on January 14, Baathist forces assassinated a key aid to Iraqs leading Shiite cleric, Ali al-Sistani, as part of an ongoing campaign to derail the elections. Five days later, five car bombings took place in Baghdad, killing at least a dozen people. Despite such attacks, which have mounted since the beginning of the year, the U.S.-led forces and the Allawi administration insist they are going full steam ahead with the elections and are solidifying support among the countrys Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of the population, and Kurds.
Up to 2,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi special forces troops will be in Mosul to provide security for the elections, according to AFP. Another 600 troops from the Iraqi 24th Battalion, also known as the Iraqi Intervention Force, have moved into the citys police academy. The battalion is composed of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds who fought alongside U.S. Marines in the assault on Fallujah last November.
The U.S. and Iraqi troops in the Mosul area will be headed by the 5,000-strong Stryker Brigade. Such brigades, equipped with the Stryker combat vehicle, are being used effectively in Mosul and are well-designed for the decentralized war U.S. forces are fighting in Iraq, said U.S. Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia. The Stryker is lighter and faster than the Bradley fighting vehicle and capable of transporting more troops over longer distances, he said. Task Force Olympia is responsible for U.S. forces in northern Iraq.
The Allawi regime recently announced drastic security measures for the elections, reported the January 17 New York Times. These include a ban on travel between cities and setting up pedestrian only areas within blocks of polling stations. One U.S. general said it was highly likely that all private vehicle traffic would be banned on election day across the country.
Election officials say no voter registration has taken place in western Anbar province, which includes Fallujah and Ramadi, cities in central Iraq where the Hussein regime had a strong base of support, the BBC reported. U.S. forces routed Baathists from Fallujah in a week of fighting last November, and have only allowed a few thousand of the citys former 250,000 residents to return. In an effort to increase the number of potential Sunni voters in the four provinces where low turnout is expectedwhich include the areas around Mosul, Tikrit, and Baghdad, in addition to Anbar provinceresidents of these areas will be allowed to register on election day.
Ansar al-Islam, a Baathist-backed group, took responsibility for the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mandani, a senior aide to Ali al-Sistani, reported the January 15 International Herald Tribune. In a sign of the growing isolation of such groups, the Association of Muslim Scholars, a leading Sunni group, condemned the al-Mandanis killing as the work of criminal agents.
Officials of the interim government recently announced that Saddam Husseins cousin, Izz al-Din al-Majid, controlled $7 billion with which he funded groups like Abu Musab al-Zarqawis Tawhid and Jihad, which has taken responsibility for many bombings and kidnappings and the beheadings of hostages. The money was reportedly taken from Iraqs treasury just before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Al-Majid was captured in December.
Meanwhile, Kurds who were forcibly displaced from Kirkuk and the surrounding region in the 1980s will be allowed to vote in Kirkuk, said Farid Ayar, an Iraqi election official. This helped cement a tentative agreement, which awaits approval by the Kurdish regional parliament, to drop a threatened boycott of the elections by Kurds in the area. The Hussein regime forced thousands of Kurds out of Kirkuk in the 1980s. Their lands and homes were given to Sunni Arabs, many of whom were also forced to move into the area, in a Baathist Arabization program to strengthen the regimes hold over the oil-rich region. U.S. officials estimate that recent Kurdish resettlement efforts have so far forced 100,000 Arabs to leave Kirkuk.
Washington weighs cuts in U.S. military programs
Debate shows factionalism among U.S. rulers
U.S. soldier convicted for Abu Ghraib torture
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