Baghdad (AFP) Oct 25, 2009
Iraq risks increased instability if elections slated for January are delayed, a top Iraqi general warned in an interview with AFP, as legislation key to the polls remained stalled.
Lieutenant General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces, added that he was concerned that insurgents could step up attacks in the months following the vote, as a new government is formed and takes control.
"What we are afraid of, if there is any delay to the elections ... is this may create problems for security in general," the 48-year-old said in his office in Camp Victory, a US military base on Baghdad's outskirts.
Majeed, however, said Iraqi security forces had a "Plan B" that they could roll out if the elections were postponed, which remains a possibility as MPs wrangle over a key law that would regulate the transparency of the polls.
His comments echoed those of a representative of Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who warned at Friday prayers that senior Shiite clergy were anxious about the failure to adopt an election law.
"The delay in the elections will create a constitutional and political void and upheaval in security," Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai said.
An Iraqi lawmaker has predicted that a meeting on Sunday of the national security political committee, an advisory body comprising Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other political leaders, will fail to reach agreement on a new election law and that the polls would be postponed one or two months.
The committee meeting was scheduled after the Iraqi parliament gave up on its attempts to agree a new law to govern the general election, scheduled for January 16.
At issue are proposed changes to the law that would require parties to publish full lists of their candidates rather than simply the name of their electoral list.
Another major stumbling block has been the fate of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which the Kurds have long demanded be incorporated in their autonomous region in the north despite the opposition of its Arab and Turkmen communities.
Constitutionally, the election must be held by January 31 and it is pencilled in for January 16.
Majeed warned that the coming months could see an upswing in violence, with security only stabilising by the middle of next year after a transfer of power to a new government.
"I am concerned that between now ... and July 2010, basically throughout the election and after with the transfer from the old government to the new government, maybe you will see terrorist activities increase," he said.
Attacks have dropped dramatically compared to a year ago -- violent deaths in September were the lowest since May -- but remain high by international standards.
The general said "what really bothers" Iraq's military brass was security along the country's borders with Iran and Syria, which he said were helping train and equip insurgents infiltrating Iraq.
"Interference from the outside, from neighbouring countries, is what is creating terrorism (in Iraq) -- terrorism came to us from the outside, it was imported," he said.
"It is pretty clear to us, and we have lots of evidence coming from those we are arresting -- the trainees are coming from camps in Syria and Iran.
"The people that we arrested, that is what they told us, that is where they were trained. The caches of weapons we find in the south, they are coming from Iran."
He said Iraq's border force lacked training, equipment and manpower.
According to Majeed, Iraq's security forces will be fully "built up" by 2020 as part of a three-phase plan, the first phase of which is due to conclude by 2011.
That plan, however, is hampered by a lack of financial resources -- Iraq's oil-dependent economy is attempting to rebuild after decades of violence, war and sanctions.
"The budget changed our plans ... This will affect this phase, and it will also affect the later phases," he said, noting that while the original plan had called for a total of 17 mechanised battalions to be ready by the end of 2011, only 10 will now be available.
Asked whether that would affect the Iraqi security forces' readiness for the eventual withdrawal of US troops from the country, the general said everything hinged on the readiness of the Iraqi police (IP).
"The obstacle is the IP are not ready. Our concern is that ... we cannot leave the cities if the IP are not ready by the end of 2011," he said.
US troops left Iraqi cities and towns at the end of June as part of a security agreement between Baghdad and Washington.
Under the terms of the accord, some 70,000 American soldiers will have to leave Iraq by the end of August, and all remaining US forces must withdraw by the end of 2011.
But Michele Flournoy, US undersecretary of defence for policy, told lawmakers in Washington that failure to resolve the election law issue within the next week or so "might well have implications" for the American military drawdown.
"If the IP are ready, then we (the army) can leave the cities to the IP, and we can fill the gap the Americans are going to leave behind. If the IP are not ready, then our forces are forced to stay in the cities, and we are going to have a problem outside the cities," Majeed said.
However, he expressed confidence that the police would be ready.
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Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
US presses Iraq on elections
Washington (AFP) Oct 21, 2009
The United States is pressing Iraq not to delay parliamentary elections in early January, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday, acknowledging it could affect plans for drawing down US forces. Doubts about the election timeline rose again Wednesday after the Iraqi parliament failed to reach agreement on an election law because of a stalemate over oil-rich Kirkuk. ... read more
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