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US and Iraqi Forces Prepare to Secure Referendum

U.S. and Iraqi military officers in the sector north of Baghdad expressed confidence on Friday that their forces are ready to secure Saturday's voting on the new Iraqi constitution. Reporters in Washington spoke to the officers on a satellite video link from Iraq.

Speaking from the U.S.-Iraqi base at Taji, the officers said they have increased the number of troops deployed in their region to prepare for Saturday's voting. Iraqi Major General Bashar Ayoub says he does not know what the insurgents might be planning, but his two mechanized brigades are ready for whatever happens. "We don't have a direct number or direct information. But we are ready to face any act of the terrorists. And all our soldiers and officers are ready at each point they are occupying now to deal with the terrorists no matter which way they are going to act against us," he said.

General Ayoub says Iraqi voters know the election procedures well from repeated explanations on television, and he does not expect many people to try to violate the ban on driving on referendum day. If they do, the general says the troops are trained on how to deal with them without resorting to violence, while also being on alert for insurgents trying to deliver car bombs.

U.S. Colonel David Bishop, who commands the sector for the coalition and works closely with General Ayoub, says both the insurgents and his forces have increased their operations in recent weeks. He says the number of attacks by the insurgents has increased from four or five per day, to eight or nine per day. But he says most of the attacks are not effective. At the same time, Colonel Bishop says his forces have increased their operations from about 120 missions per day to as many as 160.

"We've been surging around the clock for the last couple of weeks, conducting offensive operations. We've detained up to 80 insurgents in the last month and we've seized 16 weapons caches. So we've had a lot of success in the last few weeks leading up to this election," he said.

Colonel Bishop says he is deploying most of his troops to secure roads and infrastructure installations to free up General Ayoub's Iraqi forces to secure the polling places, as they did during Iraq's last election in January.