Inspecting Coalition Readiness Before Iraq Elections

Army Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commanding general in Iraq, is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that Iraq's historic elections are not deemed a failure.

"We'll see what they've got," Casey said of the insurgents as he worked a 17-hour day, overseeing security to protect potential Iraqi voters.

"We've told our guys to be as invisible as you can," he said. "And then moving from the polling station out, your choices [of security forces] are: Iraqi police, Iraqi National Guard, Iraqi army, the Insurgent Protection Service, and the last resort is coalition forces."

Casey spent the day in the field, visiting coalition forces and determining their readiness. In Diwaniyeh, located in central Iraq, Polish troops told him they expected to be ready for Sunday's elections.

Unbeknownst to Casey, though, an Iraqi government minister had created two new Iraqi battalions to be stationed in town, but they don't have any weapons or radios. The Iraqi official had assumed the United States would provide them. After listening for an hour, a flurry of Polish and American officers got back on his helicopter and moved on, hoping to find a solution later.

'The First Time They Have a Choice'

Casey says he believes that most Iraqis want to vote: "We liberated them, but this is the first time they have a choice."

Farther east in al Kut, near the Iranian border, Casey sat through an interminable briefing from Ukrainian forces. They also claim to be ready; the ballots have arrived and are being kept under lock and key.

After the head of the local election committee and the local police chief were ushered into the meeting, they issued long lists of requests for weapons, trucks and Internet service. It is unlikely the requests will be granted in time for the elections.

Casey wants the Iraqis to defend themselves, but most say they don't have enough weapons and ammunition.

"What we need to do is to work with them to bring them to the levels where they are capable of doing it first with little support from us and then doing it by themselves," Casey said. "The way we talk about it with the Iraqis is, 'Right now, the coalition is in the lead with the counterinsurgency and the Iraqis are in support.' And what we want to do over next year is to reverse that. And I think that is entirely possible."

Casey's trip has been partly a listening tour and partly a way to show the coalition forces and Iraqis that he cares. While he knows that reshaping Iraq is beyond his capability, he also knows that the future of Iraq depends on a successful election.

Peter Jennings filed this report for "World News Tonight."

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