U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill discussed the state of Karbala Province with Brig. Gen. Ricky Gibbs, 1st Infantry Division and United States Division-South deputy commanding general for maneuver, Soldiers of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, and members of the Karbala Provincial Reconstruction Team, at Patrol Base Husaniyah, Mar. 6, 2010.

The focus of the discussion was on the March 7 national elections in Iraq - only the second since the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

The visit followed the March 4 special needs election, where the Iraqi Security Forces, who will be ensuring security at polling sites during the general elections, were able to vote.

Lt. Col. Robert Ashe, commander, 2nd Bn., 69th Regt., told Hill the special needs election also afforded U.S. and Iraqi forces the chance to evaluate their security plans.

"We identified some places we needed to fix," he said, "And it gave the Iraqis a chance to see that as well."

Since then, the strengthening of weak points in the security plan for the 273 polling centers in Karbala Province ensured safe environments for Iraqi voters, said Ashe.

In recent weeks, the Karbala PRT and Co. D Soldiers have visited various polling sites.

Karbala PRT team leader Thomas Kincannon said the tension in the air is "pretty mild".

"A month ago things were pretty sour," he said, "We're seeing a lot of enthusiasm right now."

During Election Day, U.S. forces will not be any closer than 200 meters from polling sites and international observer teams will monitor within to ensure the sites are organized and fairly run.

Despite all the research and planning, the outcome of the election is hard to predict, said Hill.

"It's fairly unique in this region that we have an election where we don't know the outcome - we'll have to wait for the votes," he said.

Hill predicted that by March 10 or 11, 30 percent of the votes will have been tallied and a clearer guess could be rendered.

"I don't need to tell you all how important this election is," he said, "It will have a profound effect on the quality of democracy for years to come."

The city of Karbala is home to 60 percent of the residents of Karbala Province.

Page last updated Fri March 26th, 2010 at 05:01