By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
March 3, 2010 - Iraq's upcoming elections and the U.S. drawdown of troops there later this year will go on undeterred by suicide bombings today and previous attacks like it, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.
"Neither this attack nor any of the previous attempts to derail the electoral process and to destabilize the government have been or will be successful, nor do we anticipate that it will derail our responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq," Morrell said at a Pentagon news conference.
The United States has about 96,000 servicemembers in Iraq and will maintain that level in the weeks following the March 7 national elections, Morrell said. That troop strength is necessary to provide for a peaceful transfer of power, he explained. "But once that has been established, we are prepared to draw down dramatically" to get to President Barack Obama's goal of having 50,000 troops in Iraq by Sept. 1, he said.
Suicide bombers attacked two police stations and a hospital just outside Baghdad in Baqouba early today, reportedly killing dozens of people. "It's disgraceful, it's deplorable and we strongly condemn it," Morrell said of the attack, but he added that it would not deter the election or U.S. troop drawdown.
The elections mark the third time Iraqis have gone to the polls since the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, and the second time under the current constitution, Morrell noted. They are the first Iraqi national elections to take place without a large-scale insurgency and widespread sectarian violence, and unlike previous elections, he said, no major political parties or ethnic groups are boycotting the elections.
"This is an historic opportunity, and Iraqis recognize it as such," he said. "We expect participation to be broad across Iraq's ethnic and sectarian spectrum. "
The United States and international organizations, including the United Nations, are assisting the Iraqi Independent High Commission as needed, "although frankly, they haven't needed much," Morrell said. Iraqi forces are leading security efforts, he told reporters, and U.S. stand ready to assist them if called upon.
"The bottom line is, this is the Iraqis' election, and all indications are that they are more than prepared to pull it off," he said.