Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/29/2004 7:39:59 PM ET 2004-11-30T00:39:59

Faced with the real threat of terrorist attacks during Iraqi elections next month, U.S. military officials tell NBC News the Pentagon is now planning to raise the number of American troops in Iraq by 10,000-11,000 to provide additional security. That's twice the number of needed reinforcements first anticipated and will temporarily raise the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to about 150,000.

That means soldiers from the Army's 1st Infantry and 1st Cavalry and some U.S. Marines who were scheduled to leave Iraq this month may be ordered to stay longer, while soldiers from the 3rd Infantry and 82nd Airborne could be ordered into Iraq earlier than scheduled.

Even then, it would seem impossible to protect all 9,000 polling places in Iraq from terrorist attack.

"We could probably see 10, 20, 30, 50 people killed on Election Day in Iraq, including some American forces, some Iraqi security forces and some innocent voters," says Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Fifteen Iraqi political parties, mostly minority Sunnis, are demanding the elections be postponed for six months.

"If the Sunnis do not participate in the elections, it will raise questions about the legitimacy of the Iraqi government, not only within Iraq but especially in other Arab and Muslim countries," says Shibley Telhami, an Iraq expert at the University of Maryland.

But Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said elections would be the most potent weapon against insurgents and terrorists.

"They must not be allowed to succeed," said Powell. "And the way to show the lie to their efforts is to have a successful election on the 30th of January, and that's what we're all committed to."

Pentagon officials worry, however, that the terrorist bombings and assassinations are a powerful form of intimidation. The bodies of 70 Iraqis, most of them Iraqi security forces, were found executed last week in Mosul alone.

Military officials do report since the U.S. invasion of Fallujah, attacks across all of Iraq have dropped from 130 to 50 per day. But the fear is the insurgents are only regrouping for an all-out offensive timed to the elections.

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