Iraqi elections short-term security goal

MOSUL, Iraq, Jan. 19 (UPI) — The short-term focus for U.S. military operations in Iraq is finding a security balance in the run-up to provincial elections Jan. 31, commanders say.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen took over command responsibility Dec. 9 for coalition forces operating north of Baghdad, including the Kurdish provinces and volatile Diyala province.

Caslen said his immediate focus was finding a delicate balance between securing the elections and allowing the Iraqi public the freedom to take part in the evolution of their country, Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the U.S. armed forces, said Monday.

“We are doing extensive planning with the Iraqis,” said Caslen. “These are Iraqi elections run by the Iraqis. They aren’t going to be run by the coalition, but in order to have successful elections you have to have security.”

The Kurdish provinces, along with the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, will not hold provincial elections with the rest of the country. Caslen said the situation there is delicate, as control over the region is in dispute between the Kurdish, Arab and Turkomen populations in the north.

Meanwhile, the commander described dealing with “a viable insurgency” still active in the northern city of Mosul as the Christian minority religious community in Iraq has been targeted by militias since summer 2008. The area is also a stronghold for al-Qaida activity in the country.

“The security situation in Mosul is still very tenuous, so we find the Iraqi police to be having a tough time,” he said. “But they are very brave and are doing the best they can.”