By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 1, 2008 - Coalition forces officials in Iraq's Babil and Karbala provinces have not seen tensions rise among political groups vying for power as elections approach next month, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. "What I'm seeing right now is a very positive situation in both provinces, and anticipation of those elections," Army Col. Tom James, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, said from Iraq during a video news conference with Pentagon reporters. "I have not seen any clear activity or any jockeying in some form of extremist-type activity related to the elections at this point."
Iraq's provincial elections scheduled Jan. 31 are the first in a series of elections scheduled for the legislature throughout the year. The election season's security plans in the area were established and will be maintained by local army and police forces, with coalition forces in reserve, James said.
"The Iraqi security forces established a great plan in securing the registration sites in preparation for the voting and in the elections that are upcoming," he said. "That was an extremely successful security mission for them. So we're seeing that as working, and a very positive thing."
U.S. officials in central Iraq are confident in the Iraqi forces' ability to secure the elections, as the region has expressed a great deal of anticipation, Howard Van Vranken, leader of the embedded provincial reconstruction team there, told reporters.
"We expect that [the elections] will be conducted in a way that's perceived to be free and fair and transparent to the population," Van Vranken said. "Our contacts locally tell us that the perception of fairness is almost as important as the outcome and the results of the elections."
Although precautions are being taken throughout the country, forces in Babil and Karbala are encouraged by the resolve of the local populace to engage and be active in the political process, he said.
"I think it's going to be what I would call a vigorous campaign," he said. "It's an extremely encouraging sign that [the Iraqis] recognize the credibility of the elections and understand the importance of engaging in it."