March 15, 2006 — -- U.S. military officials tell ABC News that there are more U.S. troops on the way to Iraq.
Gen. George Casey, the American commander in Iraq, plans to move in 700 troops from nearby Kuwait, where they have been on standby as part of a so-called "ready brigade." Military officials say the move will be temporary; one official said the additional troops were only expected to stay "a matter of weeks."
"There are two main reasons why this is being done," a military official told ABC News. "The upcoming seating of parliament and the upcoming Shia holiday Arba'een. They'll temporarily provide security for two very important events."
The Arba'een holiday, which ends March 20, brings thousands of Shiite Muslims on a pilgrimage to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq.
Military officials worry that attacks tied to the holiday could provoke further violence. Already, sectarian violence has Pentagon officials worried about the possibility of civil war.
"There will be a lot of people in the streets," a military official said. "Marching for the pilgrimage, it's an opportunity for the insurgents to launch a spectacular attack. The intent is to provide that extra measure of protection to prevent the bad guys from doing what they did in Samarra."
The attack on a Shiite mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22 provoked what one top military commander called the worst sectarian violence of the war.
Gen. John Abizaid, commander of Central Command, told Congress late last week, "There's no doubt that the sectarian tensions are higher than we've seen, and it is of great concern to all of us."
Already this week, there have been at least 87 bodies found in Iraq tied to what officials believe are execution-style sectarian killings.
The additional troops come from the 3,500-soldier 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division. This unit was supposed to have gone to Iraq late last year, but was kept in Kuwait for any potential troop surge into Iraq.
The decision to send more troops to Iraq comes at a time when the Pentagon was hoping to reduce troop levels. Officials said this temporary move did not mean there would not be troop reductions later this year. There are currently 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
"To keep it in perspective, that's why they're there in Kuwait," a military official said. "It shouldn't be interpreted as a huge deal, but it will be … you know how it goes."