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Iraq Transition

Tightened security tries to quell Iraqi fears on election


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CNN's Jonathan Mann explains how Iraqis will vote.

Iraq's election won't be like those in most democracies.

Iraq is preparing until the last minute for Sunday's voting.
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(CNN) -- Strict curfews, travel restrictions and a weapons ban are in effect to protect Iraqis when they go to the polls Sunday.

The tightened security is part of efforts to protect nearly 13 million registered voters in the country.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities have warned for months that insurgents likely would step up their attacks to try to disrupt and discredit the elections to select a 275-member National Assembly and provincial councils.

A top Iraqi police official warns that intelligence sources estimate insurgents had 150 car bombs and 250 suicide bombs prepared to strike. (Full story)

Insurgents have targeted polling stations and political party offices, warning candidates and would-be voters that their lives would be at risk if they cast ballots. An audiotape message attributed to insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called the elections a "big American lie." (Full story)

In some northern Baghdad neighborhoods, insurgents distributed leaflets that called election lines the "queues of doom and death."

"We swear, by God, that we will wash Baghdad streets with voters' blood," a pamphlet says.

In some parts of the country, officials have kept the locations of polling stations a secret until the last minute, so insurgents would have less time to plan.

"I don't know who to vote for. I don't know how to vote. I don't know where to vote," said Sheik Ahmad Al-Janabi in Falluja, a city west of Baghdad devastated in November by fierce fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents.

"From what we know of elections, there are promotions, there is campaigning, there are places to vote. A person knows who to vote for to be able to vote. Have you ever heard of going to vote and not knowing the candidates?"

Iraqi troops and security forces will play the lead roll in protecting the 30,000 polling stations around the country, with support from thousands of U.S. troops, U.S. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond said.

"We're going to be in the outer cordon-type mission of controlling traffic, posturing ourselves in a position where if we have to respond, we can react immediately," Hammond said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces also have been cracking down on insurgents ahead of the vote, arresting hundreds of suspects and seizing weapons caches, Hammond said.

About 3,000 Iraqi security troops and 3,000 U.S. Marines are operating in Falluja, Marine Col. Mike Schupp said.

Schupp said the city's voting stations are prepared against expected threats such as improvised explosive devices, suicide bomb vests and small-arms fire.

Snipers will be placed in positions around the voting sites. Residents will go through multiple checkpoints that include weapons- and explosives-detecting technology before being allowed to enter voting areas.

Iraqi officials have imposed overnight curfews, restricted travel between Iraq's 18 provinces and closed the country's borders and Baghdad International Airport. Civilians will not be allowed to carry weapons until after the elections, and almost all vehicle traffic will be banned on Election Day.

U.N. officials supervising the balloting said Wednesday that conditions are "far from ideal," but they said they are satisfied that Iraq has set up a basis for credible elections.

Earlier this month, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told reporters that "the security situation is still bad."

"We don't claim we have completely provided security to Iraqis, but I say there has been good progress," Allawi said.

President Bush admitted Wednesday that the threat of violence would intimidate some Iraqis, but he said he was "impressed by the bravery of the Iraqi citizens."

"I urge all people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists," Bush said. "These terrorists do not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. They have no positive agenda. They have no clear view of a better future. They're afraid of a free society."

CNN's Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report


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