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Iraqi vote important, but security key to future

Retired Army General Wayne Downing talks about elections, U.S. withdrawal
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With Iraqis voting this weekend over whether to pass a constitution and clear the way for the establishment of a permanent government, all eyes are on the vote total throughout each region.

If two-thirds of Iraqis vote no in any three of the country's 18 provinces, the constitution would be defeated and the entire political process would then have to return to square one.

MSNBC military analyst and former commander of the U.S. Army special operations, General Wayne Downing, joined MSNBC's Amy Robach on Friday to give a military perspective on the vote and what may follow.

Downing, who just returned from his seventh trip to Iraq, said he expects the insurgency to continue its campaign of violence through the voting period.

"I think what you're seeing is the insurgents having learned the lessons from the January election which really were a smashing success," he said. "I think what you're seeing right now is that they're trying to intimidate all of the builders, especially the Sunni builders from going to the polls.  I expect this violence to continue but it's going to become more difficult because now the curfew is going to go into effect and we're going to have draconian security measures enforced by coalition and the Iraqi security forces."

After the election is over - regardless of the result - Downing said he believes the violence that he notes is concentrated in only three of the country's 18 provinces, will recede.

"The Iraqi security forces are arguably better by a factor of 10, 50 maybe even 100 then they were jut 9 or ten months ago," he said. "As those Iraqi security forces become more effective, then I think things are going to settle down. 

With that, Downing predicts, will come a U.S. withdrawal.

"I think what determines the withdrawal of our forces is going to be the Iraqi security forces standing up," he said. "Certainly, this political process is very important as we accomplish that key task, but the people that I talk to really expect that by summer we're going to be able to withdraw some forces. 

Downing said a withdrawal is important, because the U.S. presence is at or near the point of being more divisive than productive.

"I think we need to get the forces out of there, we need to commanders over in Iraq to realize the sensitivity of this issue," he said.

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