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Iraqis Will Have Secure Voting Environment, General Says

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2005 – The success of joint Iraqi and coalition operations in Iraq will ensure a safe voting environment for Iraqi national elections, a senior military official in Iraq said today.

"We see great progress in our operations," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said at a news conference in Baghdad.

But one element of concern casts a shadow over that progress: Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi still has 15 days to try and derail the democratic process in Iraq, Lynch said.

This mission is becoming an increasing struggle for the terrorist leader, however, the general said. He cited the success of recent coalition offensive operations in Iraq and the Nov. 10 hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, that caused backlash against the terrorist leader in his home country. Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq network claimed responsibility for the attacks, spurring Jordanian protests denouncing the terrorist leader.

"He's struggling because we've taken away a lot of his munitions," Lynch said. "He's struggling because we've denied him safe havens across Iraq. He's struggling because we've taken away his freedom of movement."

Zarqawi also has lost 117 network leaders since January, Lynch noted, including his executive secretary, Abu Ubaydah, killed in October in what Lynch called "a blow for freedom."

Despite continuing insurgent activity, progress is being made in Iraq, Lynch said.

About 214,000 Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped, and the country has re-established control of its border, the general told reporters. On Nov. 30 the Iraqi defense minister declared the Iraq border with Syria at Husaybah sealed. It was a known entry point for Zarqawi and his forces, Lynch said.

During the past week, 11 car bombs exploded, 13 fewer than the preceding week. The reduction in car bombings is directly linked to joint Iraqi and coalition force operations that have turned up about 301 weapons caches in November, Lynch said, adding that that is the largest number of caches discovered since January.

Operation Tigers, an ongoing joint operation that began in Ramadi on Nov. 27, included cordon-and-search operations that resulted in the discovery of numerous weapons caches, Lynch said. Operation Iron Hammer recently started with the goal of denying Zarqawi the use of the eastern side of the Euphrates River as a safe haven, he added.

"In Kirkuk, we found the mother of all weapons caches," Lynch said, referring to a large cache discovered Nov. 27 on a tip from a local citizen. "The people of Iraq who are tired of the insurgency are turning to Iraqi security force members and saying, 'Hey, here's where they're storing their munitions.'"

Iraqi border enforcement also is beefed up and successfully patrolling the country's borders. The Border Enforcement Department now boasts 18,000 members, an increase of 3,000 since January. The addition of 170 border forts along the Iraqi border to the 58 existing in January makes the border easier to protect. Border enforcement expects to have 258 complete border forts by January, Lynch said.

The border patrol is employing technology at the border crossings, he said. A type of X-ray machine known as a Backscatter system is being used to scan cargo vehicles to detect people trying to enter Iraq by hiding in cargo.

All of these strides in security and stability are laying groundwork for an upcoming successful Iraqi national election, Lynch said.

"On the 15th of December, there will be peaceful elections in Iraq," Lynch said. "The people of Iraq will vote for a new Iraq. They're excited, and we are equally excited."

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