updated 1/12/2006 11:29:48 AM ET 2006-01-12T16:29:48

The U.S. military predicted Thursday that violence would increase around Iraq as final results from last month's elections are released and political groups forge ahead with forming a new government.

Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition force, said that a series of "horrific attacks" that left at least 500 people dead since the Dec. 15 elections were an indication that insurgents were trying to seize the opportunity of a transition to a new government to try destabilize the democratic process.

"As democracy advances in the form of election results and government formation, and as the military pressure continues, and the pressure generated by political progress increases, we expect more violence across Iraq," he said at a news briefing.

Final election results are expected to be released early next week.

Opportunity to attack
Alston said that as a new government starts coming together "those committed to seeing democracy fail will see this time of transition as an opportunity to attack the innocent people of Iraq."

He said the recent attacks were part of an "attempt to discredit and derail the progress of the Iraqi people"

At least 121 people died last week in twin suicide attacks against a shrine in the southern Shiite holy city of Karbala, and at a police recruiting center in Ramadi. A day earlier, at least 32 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a Shiite funeral in Muqdadiyah, north of Baghdad. Another 29 died in a Monday attack against the Interior Ministry in the capital.

All the attacks, Alston said, had a common aim: "to incite fear and create doubt in the people of Iraq in an attempt to suffocate progress toward a better future for Iraq."

He added that "many innocent Iraqis were undeniably targeted by terrorists. The increase in attacks across Iraq this past week clearly indicates that al-Qaida and others terrorists still have the capability to surge."

U.S. denies restricting Iraqi forces
Alston denied allegations by leading Shiite politicians that the United States had restricted the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with insurgents.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, has both blamed hardline Sunni groups of inciting the violence, and said the Defense and Interior ministries -- both dominated by Shiites -- were being restrained by the U.S.-led coalition.

"I would tell you that I do not see any additional procedures that have been employed, or I should say additional restrictions or additional requirements that have been levied on the Iraqi security forces that would tie their hands," Alston said.

But he did say that "we have always had coordinating instructions with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense. As the situation changes and they grow in capability those policies are re-evaluated in order for us to be as effective and for them to be as effective as we possibly can."

Sunni Arabs have complained that often brutal methods used by Interior Ministry forces have already pushed Iraq to the brink of sectarian war. Hundreds of abused prisoners have recently been discovered, mostly in prisons operated by the Interior Ministry -- prompting complaints from U.S. officials.

Al-Qaida in Iraq
SCIRI and its former military wing, the Badr Brigade militia, last week hinted they would carry out reprisals if the violence did not stop. Although the insurgency is dominated by Sunni Arabs, much of the violence since the elections has been claimed by Jordanian-born terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq.

Al-Qaida is said to be responsible for most of the suicide attacks carried out in Iraq, mostly targeting Shiites and security forces. One of al-Zarqawi's avowed aims is to ignite a sectarian war in Iraq.

Alston said al-Zarqawi's bloody tactics were alienating him from the homegrown insurgency.

"We have not seen sustained collaboration between Zarqawi's elements and other elements in Iraq. we have seen occasional marriages of convenience for limited objectives," Alston said. "But Zarqawi has fewer and fewer friends in Iraq."

Alston said that al-Zarqawi's targeting of civilians was turning "the people of Iraq against his cause."

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