Suicide bombings in Iraq have decreased in recent weeks, but terrorists are suspected of planning major attacks to coincide with the elections Thursday, senior U.S. military officials say.
“We don’t know what they have planned,” said one senior officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The U.S. military views the election as a crucial step toward stability because it will produce the first post-Saddam Hussein government that will be in place for four years, the officer said.
The officer also said that growing Sunni involvement in this week’s vote is a positive sign because most Sunnis boycotted January’s elections.
The officials said security at polling places will involve three rings of protection for voters to prevent or disrupt attacks.
A vehicle ban in Baghdad was imposed yesterday on all cars, and Iraq’s borders have been sealed to choke infiltration by terrorists and insurgents.
The closest polling security cordon will be manned by Iraqi security forces, including special police units, officials said. Iraq currently has about 200,000 security troops and armed police forces.
The next layer will be made up of combined U.S. and allied forces working with Iraqi troops.
The last security ring will be made up of specialized U.S. forces ready to move if firefights break out or groups of attackers become identified.
Army Brig. Gen. Augustus L. Collins told reporters on Friday that since February, the number of attacks by insurgents had declined by about half to roughly 100 per month, mostly from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
“The number of weapons caches that we found in all of our areas, we’ve taken a lot of the things that the enemy was using against us to try and hurt or kill our soldiers, so they don’t have as robust an inventory of things to use as they once did,” said Gen. Collins, commander of the 155th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq.
Gen. Collins said U.S. forces will be “on the periphery” while Iraqi forces take the lead in security operations for the elections.
Anthony Cordesman, a military affairs specialist, said in a new report on Iraq that the insurgency in Iraq is limited to four provinces: Baghdad, Al Anbar, Ninewah and Salah ad Din.
The four provinces have less than 42 percent of the population but account for 85 percent of the violent attacks, said Mr. Cordesman in a report made public by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Sunni insurgents are a “distributed network” of well-organized cells that are difficult to counter, he said.
Overall, there are an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 full-time insurgents, 90 percent of whom are Iraqis, the report said.