WASHINGTON — U.S. forces will play a behind-the-scenes role during the Iraqi elections later this month and Iraqi security forces will be the visible security presence at the polls, according to the U.S. commander of military forces in north central Iraq.

Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste said Thursday that he has seen great improvement in the Iraqi security forces over the last few months, and believes having them directly monitor voting — instead of U.S. troops — will give more legitimacy to the election process.

“This is an election for Iraqis, by Iraqis,” he said. “It’s important this be an Iraqi-run election.

“You’ll see Iraqi security forces at polling stations and around polling stations. They know exactly where polling stations are and have developed plans to secure them. We’ll operate from a distance and provide quick support as necessary.”

Batiste praised the Iraqi military and police units as courageous and diverse, saying that Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis are all represented in the forces.

He said threats and direct attacks on the forces have increased dramatically in the last few weeks, which he takes as a sign that the domestic soldiers are becoming more effective and more problematic for insurgents.

Army officials said since Oct. 1, Iraqi forces have killed about 200 insurgents and captured about 1,400 in operations with U.S. military personnel and in independent missions.

“Leading up to the elections we expect [insurgents] to go after Iraqi security forces when they can find them in small numbers and to continue to attack us from a distance,” Batiste said. “But there is no shortage of brave Iraqis who want to stand up for their country.”

Batiste said he expects elections to take place throughout central Iraq, despite comments from interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi earlier this week calling parts of the country too unstable to take part.

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