BAGHDAD, Iraq – The number of insurgent attacks in Baghdad (search) has dropped in recent weeks, and American forces are getting better at finding car bombs before they go off, a top U.S. general in Iraq said Wednesday.
In a wide-ranging news conference, Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli (search) said that all of his Task Force Baghdad's 35,000 troops will be doing work linked to the Jan. 30 election on the day of the vote, and the United States would be ready to help provide security.
"We will be out in force, in support of the Iraqi government, where they want us to be, and in consultation with them," he said, refusing to say exactly how many American troops would be on the streets.
Chiarelli, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division (search), said Baghdad will probably see a spike in insurgent activity before the election but the capital will be safer than it is now before the vote. Insurgents who have waged a merciless campaign of attacks in Baghdad have threatened to sabotage the vote.
"While insurgent activity in Baghdad will likely spike as the Iraqi people approach their elections and the insurgents become more desperate, we will continue to focus on providing an environment in which Iraqis can conduct their elections without insurgent interference," Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli said that on average, for every car bomb that explodes in the capital, his troops find another one and neutralize it. He refused to give details, but said his troops were getting better at finding insurgents' explosives.
He said attacks in Baghdad were down since the U.S.-led invasion of Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold, that began on Nov. 8. He said he was pleased that Iraqis have been calling a tip line and paying attention to billboards around the city that ask them to report weapons caches or suspicious activity.
"All I can tell you is that we've established a tips line and people are calling into that tips line," he said. "All I can tell you is that we've got billboards all over the city, and I take great joy in the fact that I see the insurgents trying to tear them down, and we put them back up."
Despite almost daily attacks on Iraqi security forces that have killed hundreds of officers, Chiarelli said Iraqis continue to want to join the National Guard and police force. There have been reports that many Iraqis were deserting their posts for fear because of the insurgent campaign.
"We're having no problems recruiting and keeping our units filled up, and that is a good thing, and it is truly amazing," Chiarelli said. "They want to get out there."