BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sometimes it seems the United States and the interim Iraqi government (search) have their lines crossed, with contradictory messages being sent about security 50 days before landmark elections.
One example: Just hours after Washington announced last week that it would send 12,000 more troops to help with Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, a top Iraqi official said the extra American forces weren't need.
"We don't want to involve the multinational forces in the election affairs," said Qassim Dawoud, minister of state for national security (search). "We are taking our measures to provide security to our society."
Dawoud hasn't been alone in saying one thing about the security situation in Iraq while his government's U.S. backers have declared just the opposite.
The mixed messages of late also swirl over the state of Iraq's unrelenting insurgency — whether Iraq's forces are capable of crushing it and the wisdom of even holding the vote as scheduled in the midst of ongoing violence.
The Americans are clearly worried. The decision to bring in 12,000 more troops raises U.S. force levels to 150,000, more than the Bush Administration (search) committed to the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
"It had been our hope that we would be able to have a combination of increases that mainly were Iraqi troops increases," Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, said last week. "And while the Iraqi troops are larger in number than they used to be, those forces have to be seasoned more, trained more. So, it's necessary to bring more American forces."
Those fears appear to be well-founded. Attacks have surged in recent days with dozens of Iraqis and many Americans killed.
The insurgents seem able to strike nearly at will, even at difficult or well-armed targets. An Iraqi National Guard patrol was hit, as was a police station just yards from the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and headquarters of the U.S.-sponsored interim government in downtown Baghdad.
But any security concerns would be hard to detect coming from Brooska Noori Shawis, secretary general of the Iraqi defense ministry.
"I think that we don't need to be worried so much that the security problem will cause bad results for the elections," he said. "When the majority of the people of Iraq decide that it has to be held, we have to do it because we are representing the people of Iraq and we are representing their interests."
Perhaps such statements from the Iraqis are no surprise. Many of them are relative political neophytes, having returned from years of exile to assume top government posts.
And Dawoud may be one of the government's loosest cannons. He has become notorious for announcing the arrests of wanted Baathists who haven't been arrested and announcing the release of people who haven't been released.
For a brief time last month, the two sides' message coincided. Iraqi and American officials had pointed to the invasion of the insurgent hotbed of Fallujah as something that smashed the rebels and significantly improved the chances for the vote.
In the last several days, however, rebels have launched several major deadly strikes. The Americans have now backed away from assured remarks from Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, that the attack had "broken the back" of the insurgency.
"Things are better now then they were a month ago, but things are still not good enough," Abizaid said.
And the NATO commander, on a visit last week, said Iraq is going nearly as well as he had expected.
"I am very pleased with what is going on in Afghanistan, but at the beginning I would have projected the opposite, with Iraq coming along faster," said Marine Gen. James Jones, the supreme commander in Europe. Afghanistan just held an election that, while not perfect, went smoothly.
Iraqi leaders, on the other hand, continue to speak with great bravado.
Shawis told The Associated Press that the insurgents in Fallujah "got a very, very hard lecture and the insurgency will decrease and you will see it."
Akeel Al-Safar, deputy national security minister, was similarly confident, telling the Al-Arabiya satellite channel that recent attacks did not represent an escalation in violence, but were the "death throes that those mercenaries and infiltrators are suffering."