WASHINGTON - US troops will be out in force in Baghdad on election day January 30 but ordinary Iraqis must come forward with information to help stave off suicide car bombings and insurgent attacks rocking the city, a top US commander said Wednesday.
Insurgents assassinated the governor of Baghdad on a city street and ran an explosives-laden vehicle into an elite Iraqi commando base Tuesday in a day of attacks that underscored concerns about the viability of the elections.
"I can tell you every single soldier assigned to Task Force Baghdad will be out or supporting the election in some way on election day. And that will be in excess of 35,000," said Major General Peter Chiarelli, who commands US forces in the Baghdad area.
"I promise you we will be out in force in support of the Iraqi government, where they want us to be and in consultation with them. We're working those plans right now," he told reporters via a video teleconference from Iraq.
Chiarelli, who leads the US 1st Cavalry Division, said his forces have had greater success in recent weeks in finding car bombs, or what the military calls vehicle borne explosive devices (VBED), before they explode.
"We have pulled out 50 percent of them in the past week. For every one you've seen go off, I've found another one or broken up a cell that is placing another," he said.
But he said: "Baghdad is city of seven million people, and my ability to pull every VBED at this time is impossible."
He said he was encouraged that calls to a hotline set up for phoning in anonymous tips have gone up and that more Iraqis are approaching troops with information. But they were not doing so in the numbers needed, he acknowledged.
"It's the intimidation factor that is one of the most difficult things we have to fight," he said. "And to break that cycle of intimidation, we're going to need the help of the Iraqi people to stop it."
"In a city like this, somebody sees most acts like this going on. What we're trying to do is to create conditions that will allow Iraqis to assist us, again using their eyes to help us find out before these things take place," he said.