The Associated Press
Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 | 12:08 a.m.
A senior U.S. military commander warned on Friday that the period after Iraq's upcoming national vote could be more dangerous than election day itself.
Brig. Gen. Kevin Mangum, who oversees the U.S. role in eastern Baghdad, said officials fear a disputed vote result could re-ignite sectarian fighting that once pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. He warned that the time between the March 7 ballot and the seating of a new government will be critical.
"Will there be sectarian strife after the elections? That's our bigger concern at this point," Mangum told reporters at Camp Victory on Baghdad's western outskirts. "There are some questions about good losers and good winners."
American military commanders worry that disputed election results could throw Iraq into political chaos once again and hinder U.S. plans to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011.
Political tensions are on the rise in Iraq in the run-up to the vote, particularly since a government-backed political vetting committee banned hundreds of candidates with ties to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party.
Mangum said the U.S. has noted an uptick in targeted attacks against security forces and government officials since the ballot purge.
"There have been a number of reported assassination attempts," he said, citing a suicide car bombing a day earlier at a government complex in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
He also said there has been an increase in the past month in the number of "sticky bombs" _ explosives attached to vehicles _ used against Iraqi security officials.
But Mangum said the U.S. hasn't been able to determine whether the attacks are sectarian, political or tribal in nature.
Unlike Iraq's previous parliamentary elections in 2005, there will be no U.S. troops deployed to protect polling stations or guard ballot boxes for the March 7 vote.
American forces will operate at a distance, and will only respond to attacks or other problems at the request of the Iraqi government, Mangum said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military in Baghdad is providing bomb dog teams to search polling stations before and after the election as well as concrete blast walls and other barriers to protect voters.
The U.S. also has been instructing security forces on conduct in and around polling stations, Mangum said.
"They know full well the world is watching," he said.