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After nearly two years of persistent clashes between U.S. forces and insurgents in the Fallujah area, some local Iraqi leaders hope this week’s election can succeed where violence has failed.

“We would like to cast out the occupiers with this election,” Imam Hamiz Yasim Hamdi told several U.S. Marines at a recent meeting in Karmah, near Fallujah. “The crisis we are going through can only be solved by having a stable government and then having the coalition forces go home.”

U.S. troops say they do not care how this mostly Sunni province votes Thursday, as long as residents go to the polls and cast a ballot.

Opposition to U.S. troops is evident in the nascent political process. As troops patrol the residential streets, they often pass election posters backing Baghdad politicians that oppose U.S. troops’ continued presence in Iraq.

While many Marines here are bracing for a possible spike in violence, they also point to the limited problems during this year’s two previous elections as a cause for optimism.

A suicide car bomber attacked a U.S. convoy in Fallujah on Monday, injuring one Marine who was taken to a nearby military hospital for treatment, the military said.

Fallujah has been one of the most violence-prone areas in Iraq and a seat of Sunni resistance.

Since the Marines swept through the city in a massive battle in November 2004, U.S. forces have maintained a security perimeter around the city, restricting the flow of people and vehicles. As a result, much of the outlying areas, including Karmah, have become increasingly violent during the past year as insurgents use these suburbs as staging areas for attacks on Fallujah and other cities to the west, including Ramadi, Marines said.

On the eve of the elections, security plans remain similar to those used for the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.

The fledgling Fallujah District Police Department will assist the Iraqi army in providing security at poll sites. An estimated 1,200 police are working for the department that was created in February, the first of its kind in Anbar province.

Marines plan to stay away from the poll sites to avoid the outward appearance of influencing their outcome. Instead, they will impose a vehicle ban and mount patrols throughout the region to maintain security.

Lt. Col. James Minick, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, which oversees the area north of Fallujah, told local Iraqi leaders that the national political process will help determine when U.S. forces leave, but they must first work together to ensure peaceful elections.

“When your country decides they no longer need to have coalition forces for security, we will leave,” he told them at a recent meeting. “That simply is not the case right now and we need to continue to work together toward getting some sort of democratic government here.”


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