United States military will send extra soldiers to Iraq and reposition forces for Iraqi holiday period

The U.S. military is dispatching an Army battalion of at least 700 soldiers to Iraq from their base in Kuwait to provide extra security during a Shiite Muslim holiday period, three military officers said Wednesday.

More broadly, a substantial number of U.S. and Iraqi security forces are being repositioned inside Iraq in anticipation of potential sectarian violence related to a Shiite pilgrimage this month marking the holiday, one official said.

The holiday pilgrimages are to holy sites in Najaf and Karbala , predominantly Shiite areas where the potential for sectarian violence would be of great concern. Increased attacks marked the celebration during 2004 and 2005.

Monday marks the end of the 40-day mourning period after the death of Imam Hussein in 680 AD. He was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and was killed in Karbala in present day Iraq , now the site of large Shiite pilgrimages to mark the date.

The military moves, which have not been publicly announced, come amid a spike in sectarian violence and expectations that it likely will remain a problem as fractious Iraqi political leaders attempt to form a new government.

The decision to add the armored unit, perhaps for as little as 30 days, is in contrast to the Bush administration's hopes of substantially drawing down the U.S. military presence in Iraq this year. There are currently about 133,000 troops there.

It also comes amid administration efforts to persuade the American public that the war effort is succeeding. Opinion polls show faltering public support for the war.

A battalion of the 1st Armored Division, numbering between 700 and 800 soldiers, is moving into Iraq in the next few days, one officer said. The three officers who confirmed the moves spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been officially announced.

Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, said he could not confirm the moves. "I don't have anything to announce," he said, although he noted that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had said on Tuesday that U.S. commanders may decide they need to temporarily boost troop levels because of the pilgrimage.

"General Casey may decide he wants to bulk up slightly for the pilgrimage," Rumsfeld said, referring to Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "And we're continuing to pull troops down. And we're continuing to shift our weight, as we've said, between the combat patrol aspects of it, over to the training and the equipping and providing the enablers."

Hundreds of people have been killed since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra , creating concern that the country may be tipping toward civil war.

The mechanized infantry battalion that is being sent to Iraq is one of three from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division that originally were scheduled to deploy to Iraq but were instead held in Kuwait as a standby force in the event Casey decided he needed extra troops. It's not clear how long the battalion will remain in Iraq , the officers said, reports the AP.


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