- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

MUQTADIYA, Iraq — Iraqi and American troops were attacked by insurgents yesterday as they prepared for Saturday’s referendum vote, in which Iraqis will accept or reject a constitution for their fledgling democracy.

“The enemy knows we’re doing this rehearsal,” said Col. Steven Salazar, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division’s Third Brigade.

A 24-hour rehearsal for referendum day had not yet begun when two 107 mm rockets struck forward operating base Normandy — shared by Iraqi and U.S. troops — and wounded two Iraqi soldiers. Shortly afterward, two American soldiers were injured when a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire struck their patrol.

“It’s a very live practice,” said Maj. Dewey Boberg, 37, from Anaheim, Calif., operations officer for Task Force 1-30, a unit of the 3rd Infantry Division that lives and works with Iraqi troops at Normandy base, about 50 miles from Baghdad.

Once the rehearsal began, traffic nearly came to a halt throughout Diyala province.

Security forces practiced how to respond to a mortar attack on a checkpoint and went through a series of other exercises. They also discovered a real roadside bomb before it could do any damage.

“You can use this training to go tell people that all the sites are going to be open and that you have excellent security,” said Lt. Col. Roger Cloutier, commander of Task Force 1-30.

While visiting the wounded Iraqi soldiers, Col. Cloutier said: “I don’t know why anyone would attack their Muslim brothers on Ramadan.”

During Ramadan, a holy month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and are especially diligent in fulfilling an obligation to pray five times daily.

In preparation for the vote rehearsal, the Iraq government yesterday announced new security measures for the referendum that include a weapons ban, a curfew and sealing of international borders.

Terrorist attacks have increased in the days leading up to the referendum, and yesterday was no exception. In Baghdad, a suicide attacker detonated a car full of explosives at two police vehicles forming a checkpoint, killing at least five policemen and wounding 20 other persons, including six civilians.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed in fighting in western Iraq, bringing to eight the number of American casualties in a series of offensives the military began before the vote.

On Thursday, two days ahead of the vote, a nationwide nighttime curfew will begin, and nobody will be able to carry weapons in public, even if licensed, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told reporters in Baghdad.

On Friday evening, police will bar travel between provinces. International borders, airports and ports also will be closed, but Mr. Jabr did not say when the closures would begin. He acknowledged problems with security in Iraq’s western province of Anbar, the heartland of the insurgents and terrorists.

In the provincial capital of Ramadi, only 1,000 of the city’s 6,500-member police force were willing to come to work, Mr. Jabr said. Help from powerful local tribes was needed to protect polling stations, he said, and the Iraqi military would have to be responsible for security.

The referendum has divided Iraqis, with leaders of the Shi’ite Muslim majority and Kurds supporting the constitution and Sunni Arabs opposing it, saying it will fragment Iraq.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.



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