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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Security forces face biggest test on election day

TIKRIT, 28 January 2005 (IRIN) - There’s been a lot of talk about how to make polls safe for voters on election day in Iraq on 30 January, but not a lot has been said about the new Iraqi forces who will be on the front line on the day.

Sunday, is expected to be a battle between insurgents and Iraqi security forces trying to make things safe, Capt. Carrie Przelski of the US Army’s First Cavalry Division, based in the northern city of Tikrit, said at a press briefing in the home city of former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

Since insurgents are trying to discredit the new forces, they’ll do everything they can to scare people away from the polls, Przelski added.

“It will be a black eye, because if you scare away enough people from the polls, a claim can be made that it’s an illegitimate election,” Przelski said.

In recent days, more than 1,000 “replacement troops” for the Iraqi army have graduated from new training courses held around the country.

That’s because many of the thousands of new police, national guardsmen and Iraqi troops trained in the last year and a half walked off the job when called on to fight against their countrymen, Capt. Jim MacGregor, chief of operations for the First Cavalry Division, said in the briefing.

Others worked for insurgents as well as for the security forces, he added.

At least one battalion commander was arrested after Coalition forces found he was collaborating with members of the insurgency in the northeastern Diyala province, according to Macgregor.

“He worked very hard, but he was playing both sides of the fence,” the US army official said. “It has happened. We had other cases where somebody put into a position turned out to be a member of the insurgency or turned the other cheek.”

All told, almost 10,000 Iraqi troops are now working in the northern region where the US First Cavalry is based. In total, 130,000 Iraqi security forces will be on the streets on Sunday, US General George Casey, commander of US-led forces in Iraq said in a separate briefing. “They’re all on track. They are on the glide path we want them to be on,” MacGregor said.

But new soldiers are still being recruited to replace others who walked off the job in places like the southern city of Najaf, Samarra in the centre and Mosul in the Kurdish north, where US troops have fought insurgents. In Samarra, northwest of Baghdad in the volatile “Sunni Triangle,” units “evaporated twice,” US army officials said.

Now, the plan is to put those forces out front in dealing with the public, so US forces can take a step back, Casey said. The election will be a test of whether this works and if successful the changeover might take eight months or more, accompanied by US-led advisory teams to watch over the new units, he explained.

“The question is, are they capable of taking over the fight, and the answer is ‘no’,” Casey said. “They are not ready to take on the challenges of the counter-insurgency campaign today.”

If interim prime minister Iyad Allawi is elected, more former Saddam-era soldiers may be brought back, Adnan Janabi, Allawi’s campaign manager, told IRIN. The Iraqi army is well-trained and should be given a chance to improve security in the country, he added.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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