- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials said yesterday they are considering new measures to protect voters in the Jan. 30 national election, including a three-day, nationwide ban on driving to discourage car bombings.

Fresh clashes broke out in the troubled northern city of Mosul, where most election officials have fled their jobs in fear.

A U.S. military helicopter made an emergency landing in Mosul after drawing ground fire, the U.S. command said. And a U.S. Marine was killed in action yesterday in a tense area just south of Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi officials fear a surge in insurgent attacks as the election approaches. Many members of the Sunni Arab minority are expected to avoid balloting because Sunni terrorist groups have threatened to attack polling stations.

To prevent that, an Iraqi Cabinet minister told reporters that authorities are considering a number of special measures, including restrictions on the movement of private vehicles, and possible security cordons around polling stations.

Provincial Affairs Minister Waeil Abdel-Latif gave no details about the proposed restrictions, but security officials said they included banning all private-vehicle traffic across the country for three days around the election. That would make it easier to spot would-be vehicle bombers and to inhibit terrorist movements.

“The government is determined to make available facilities and security guarantees to ensure the success of the election,” Mr. Abdel-Latif said.

Underscoring the security threat, fresh clashes broke out yesterday in Mosul between U.S. troops and insurgents after the rebels blasted an American convoy.

After the blast, insurgents opened fire on American troops, who then raided a nearby agricultural research station looking for the assailants.

A U.S. Army OH58 Kiowa helicopter made an emergency landing in Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, after receiving ground fire. The two crew members escaped injury, the command said.

In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, the U.S. general responsible for security in northern Iraq, said that virtually every election worker in Ninevah province, which includes Mosul, quit recently because of security fears.

Gen. Ham said a new election coordinator was scrambling to find workers with about two weeks left before the election and that staffers may have to be sent there from other parts of the country.

“To tell you the truth, we don’t know how many staff there actually were,” he told reporters. “But we know that at one point, there were essentially none left.”

Gen. Ham also said there were indications that insurgents were getting support from Iraqis who fled to Syria, about 70 miles west of Mosul, after Saddam’s regime collapsed.

“There are some indications, clearly, that the insurgency is receiving some support from former regime forces that are based in Syria,” Gen. Ham said, echoing accusations by Iraqi officials.

Iraqis will choose a 275-member parliament as well as provincial administrations. Voters in the Kurdish autonomous region will also select a new regional parliament.

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