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US General Says Iraq on Track for January Elections

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, says coalition forces are on track to meet the twin goals of elections in late January and training enough Iraqi security forces to maintain order in the country by the end of next year. General Casey made his remarks to reporters at the Pentagon.

General Casey says despite continuing violence in central Iraq, the country will be ready to hold nationwide elections January 30 to select a 275-member national assembly.

The general says by next December sufficient Iraqi troops and police will be trained to provide security in the country.

"My view of winning is that we are broadly on track to accomplishing our objectives, which is a constitutionally elected government that is representative of all the Iraqi people and with Iraqi security forces that are capable of maintaining domestic order and denying Iraq as a safe haven for terror. I believe we will get there by the end of December [20]05 and I believe we are on track to get there by December of [20]05."

General Casey says the bloody insurgency will continue following the January elections, but he does not expect it to persist with the current intensity that is requiring the deployment of 150,000 troops in Iraq.

The general did express concern that insurgents are still infiltrating into Iraq from across its border with Syria.

General Casey charged that former members of Saddam Hussein's regime are living in Syria and providing assistance to those fighting the U.S.-led coalition. "We see a facilitation mode through Syria for foreign fighters coming into Iraq. I do not see direct Syrian government involvement in that facilitation, but it is coming through Syria and I do believe that they have the capability to stop it if they had the will to stop it. The second point is we have fairly good information that there are senior, former Baathists, members of what they call the New Regional Command operating out of Syria with impunity and providing direction and financing for the insurgency in Iraq and that needs to stop," he said.

General Casey says coalition forces will continue to launch offensive operations against the insurgents who are using violence in an attempt to derail the Iraqi elections.

He says coalition and Iraqi forces will provide security for up to 9,000 polling places throughout the nation.