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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 January 2005, 13:28 GMT
Iraq's election security challenge
By Sam Wilson
BBC News

Iraq's election planners have been forced to second guess the militants they fear are planning bloody attacks during the country's impending vote.

They insist the poll will go ahead throughout Iraq, as planned, on 30 January - albeit amid extreme security measures.

A US soldier stands by election posters in Iraq
The US military wants to stay in the background on election day

"Preparations are under way for voting in all areas in every province", a security source working with the Iraqi ministry of the interior told the BBC News website.

Officials have said Iraq's borders will be closed for three days around the election.

The US and Iraq have repeatedly said the insurgency has been fuelled by militants coming in from abroad, particularly through neighbouring Syria.

In many areas, election staff intend to keep the location of polling stations secret until the last minute, in order to make it difficult for militants to plan attacks.

On 30 January there will be elections... It's not going to be easy, but it will be done
US Brig Gen Carter Ham

One of the greatest challenges for planners is to work out how to protect large groups of people as they vote in booths or queue outside.

The authorities have also said only vehicles with official permits will be allowed on the roads over the election period, to guard against car bombs.

Three days around the polls have been declared public holidays, and existing curfews will be extended in an attempt to keep both civilians and militants off the streets.

About 15m eligible voters
About 6,000 polling stations
7,000 candidates for national assembly
Up to 140,000 Iraqi election workers on duty
150,000 US troops providing security

There will also be a ban on carrying guns and Baghdad's airport will be shut for two days.

Iraq's Provincial Affairs Minister, Wael Abdul Latif, said Iraqi forces would provide most of the security.

"There will be some co-operation with the Multi-National Forces, but the greatest responsibility will be for the Iraqi security forces to secure these elections," he said.

US commanders say their forces will be on standby in case the Iraqis run into difficulty.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi admitted last week that "some pockets will not participate" in the election, because of the security threat.

But the interior ministry source insisted polling was planned for every part of the country.

Iraqis gather at the site of a car bombing in Iraq
Election planners fear crowds of people will make easy targets
"Sure, some people won't vote, and there'll be concentrations where this happens, but that doesn't mean they can't vote," he said.

"There are increased threats in some areas - reasonably the Iraqis will feel more fearful in some areas - but it's my belief that in every area in every province, people will be able to vote."

And US commanders say polling will take place even in the most violent areas under their control.

Lt Gen John Sattler said voting would go ahead in al-Anbar province, in the so-called Sunni triangle, where many attacks on US and Iraqi forces have taken place.

"If you're in Falluja, you'll be able to vote in Falluja. If you're in Ramadi, you'll definitely be able to vote in Ramadi. It will be safe. It will be secure," he said.

In Mosul - where Iraqi police stations have been overrun by insurgents, and 22 people were killed in an attack on a US military base on 22 December - the US military is also optimistic.

US Brig Gen Carter Ham said last weekend: "On 30 January there will be elections in Mosul, and there will be elections throughout Nineveh Province. It's not going to be easy, but it will be done."

The entire electoral commission in Nineveh resigned after threats against its members only weeks ago, but Gen Ham said commission staff had now returned and were trying to recruit election workers.

In both Nineveh and al-Anbar provinces, voters have been unable to register to vote so far, and will only be allowed to do so on the day of the poll.


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