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26 January 2005

Iraqis Prepare for First Free Election; Forces Increase Patrols

Balloting materials arrive as troops work to provide voter safety

Washington -- Voting supplies have arrived In Iraq for the January 30 elections as Iraqi security forces and multinational troops step up patrols to make the balloting as safe as possible.

All election materials, including 60 million ballot sheets and almost 90,000 ballot boxes, arrived in Iraq January 25, according to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.  They are being stored in warehouses until being distributed to polling stations the day before voting begins, he said.

Procedures are in place for Iraq poll workers to gather and count the votes regionally and report the results to a center in Baghdad.  There, about 200 Iraqis will collect and provide a national tally with the assistance of some 40 international election experts, Boucher said during a January 26 press briefing.

Earlier, Boucher had announced that there are over 14 million Iraqis registered to vote at approximately 6,000 polling stations set up around the country for the election.  Over 18,000 candidates are running for election on 256 political party lists.  Several of the parties, he explained, have formed alliances with others, pledging to cooperate in government and assembly matters.  Twenty-five thousand Iraqis will monitor the election.

“This election, said U.S. Army General George Casey, “is the first major gate in the process, noting that the initial outcome of the vote in Iraq’s steps toward democracy will be the creation of a national assembly which will draft and ratify a constitution.  Election of a permanent government will take place in December.

Casey, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, told a roundtable of reporters in Baghdad January 26 that coalition and Iraqi forces have “set our sights on eliminating all the safe havens [for terrorists and insurgents] in Iraq prior to these elections.

“We’ve continued the momentum of the military operations after Fallujah to keep the insurgents off balance, to target their leadership, to target their weapons caches, and to put ourselves in a position where the people of Iraq could vote reasonably safely on election day, he said.

General John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said the situation was relatively stable in 14 of Iraq’s 18 providences.  “There are four provinces where the security situation is difficult: in western Baghdad, the al Anbar province, Nineveh and Saahuddin province, he said during a brief question-and-answer period with the press in Washington January 26.

“That having been said, he continued, “we believe that a combination of Iraqi security forces and coalition forces will make the situation stable enough for voting to take place.

Giving a similar assessment, Casey said, “There is going to be violence on Election Day, but millions of Iraqis are going to vote on the 30th

In January 26 press releases, Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) officials announced that patrols had discovered six improvised explosive devices in Baghdad.  The day before, they had discovered one near a western Baghdad elementary school where “insurgents clearly put Iraqi children at extreme risk in order to intimidate citizens, said Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton, spokesman for the military’s Task Force Baghdad.

In the last 48 hours, according to the MNF-I, over 30 insurgents were detained, and area residents led U.S. Marines to the location of two large weapons caches which were destroyed.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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