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Iraqi PM campaigns as election security plans take shape

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Iraqis in the U.S. prepare to vote in their nation's election.

Iraqi concerns that schools will be used as polling places.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi campaigned at Baghdad University on Sunday, as Iraqi and U.S. authorities firm up security plans two weeks before election day.

"I am meeting my students of Iraq to announce to them a few important steps that we have taken, including allocation of funds to send students to do further studies and scholarships abroad," Allawi said, after holding a roundtable discussion with students. "I just signed 100 million dollars ... to support the grants and scholarships."

On Saturday, Allawi visited a school in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

Despite the precarious security situation across the country, Iraqi and U.S. officials have vowed not to delay the January 30 election for a 275-member national assembly.

Iraq's provincial affairs minister on Saturday laid out the preliminary security plan for the upcoming vote, which includes a restriction on traffic around the polling stations so that only pedestrians will be allowed inside.

"There will be some cooperation with the Multi-National Forces, but the greatest responsibility will be for the Iraqi security forces to secure these elections," Wa'il Abdul Latif said.

Latif said the basic security guidelines are not final. Iraqi authorities are considering a three-day travel ban, ahead of the elections.

U.S. government officials said they believe the insurgent campaign aimed at keeping Iraqis from the polls, particularly in Sunni Muslim areas, will work, to a degree. In some provinces, practically no voting will take place, they said.

The officials said Iraqis who want to vote could face intimidation. Polls could be threatened. Iraqis could be followed and attacked as they return home from voting.

In the predominantly Sunni city of Mosul, Iraqi security forces have bolstered their troop strength to 4,000 ahead of the election, according to a statement from the U.S. military.

The forces include national guard and regular army troops, the statement said.

The Iraqi forces will be the first line of defense in securing the country during elections, but U.S. forces will be on standby.

"If Iraqi security forces find themselves in a situation beyond their capability, then Multi-National Forces will be postured and prepared and well-rehearsed to reinforce those Iraqi security forces," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen Carter Ham, commander of Multi-National Brigade-Northwest.

He said about 12,000 Multi-National Forces are in the Mosul region.

Ham said security in Mosul has greatly improved since recent widespread attacks -- including an attack on a U.S. military base which killed 22, including 14 U.S. troops. A week after the December 21 attack, the entire electoral commission of Nineveh province resigned after some of its members were threatened by gunmen.

"The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq staff has returned to Mosul, and -- in cooperation with the provisional government, the Nineveh province council, many local mayors -- the IECI is re-establishing the processes needed to support voting and registration on January 30th," Ham said.

He said the Mosul area's biggest challenge is recruiting new election staffers, as many have quit, as well as rebuilding its police force which was "ruined" by the previous police chief. The new chief has been in Mosul for a week.

"There will not be large police forces present for duty in Mosul by the time the elections occur," Ham said. "The rebuilding of the police force will largely occur in the post-election period."

Only about a quarter of the 4,000 police remain in Mosul after a series of attacks on police stations in mid-November splintered the force.

"Today, the new police chief has control of about 1,000 or 1,200 police inside the city now," Ham said. "And we think they'll probably -- they'll grow a little bit between now and the election, maybe about 1,500 or so."

Mosul police will be responsible for the internal security of the polling centers, Ham said

Voters in Nineveh province will be allowed to register and cast their ballots on the same day, which Ham said will complicate things. But he noted that "we'll do everything we can to help them."

"There will be elections in Mosul, and there will be elections throughout Nineveh Province," he said. "It's not going to be easy, but it will be done."

Other developments

  • U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Charles Graner Jr., who was sentenced Saturday for abusing prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, said he has no regrets and no apologies for his actions in Iraq. A jury sentenced Graner to 10 years in prison, a reduction in rank to private and a dishonorable discharge for abusing and humiliating inmates. (Full story)
  • A U.S. Marine died Saturday while conducting "security and stability" operations in Babil province south of Baghdad, a military spokesman said. The victim's name was being withheld pending notification of relatives. The military released no further details, citing security concerns. The death puts the number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war at 1,364, including 1,074 killed in hostile action and 290 in nonhostile activity, according to the U.S. military.
  • A 16-year-old daughter of Iraqi official Khadim Yousef Al-Hulfi was kidnapped Friday night as she walked home from her math tutor's house in eastern Baghdad, a police official said. Al-Hulfi is the assistant to the secretary-general of the Iraqi Council of Ministers. The police official said the kidnappers had not made any demands. (Full story)
  • Earlier Friday, Iraqi police searched for 28 prisoners from Abu Ghraib who escaped from custody while being transported to another facility in Baghdad, police and U.S. military spokesmen said. Two police officers may have been involved in Thursday night's escape, Iraqi officials said.

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