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U.S. sending 1,500 more troops before Iraq vote

Extended stays for 10,000 raises total to all-time high of 150,000

U.S. soldiers run for cover after coming under fire Wednesday in Mosul.
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Some 1,500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne are heading to Iraq.

The conflict is taking its toll on health conditions in Iraq.

When to hold elections in Iraq has become a polarizing issue.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is dispatching an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq and extending the stays of more than 10,000 others to bolster security ahead of January's scheduled elections, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

The moves will bring the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from nearly 140,000 to an all-time high of about 150,000, the Pentagon said.

Gen. George Casey, commander of the American-dominated multinational force in Iraq, requested the increase to take advantage of momentum gained by recent U.S.-led offensives against an insurgency that has killed hundreds of American troops over the past 18 months, the military said.

"Force posture changes will take advantage of a 'window of opportunity' following successful operations in Falluja," said a news release from U.S. Central Command.

Two battalions of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are being dispatched to Iraq for up to four months in order to provide security for Iraq's elections, currently set for January 30, the Pentagon said.

Seventeen secular, religious and regional groups have called for a delay to the elections, but a spokesman for Ayad Allawi said Saturday the interim Iraqi prime minister is opposed to a postponement. (Full story)

The fresh troops are part of the 82nd Airborne's Ready Brigade, a unit that is constantly on standby to be deployed anywhere in the world on 18 hours' notice.

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne also were dispatched to Afghanistan to beef up security for the Afghan elections earlier this fall. (Full story)

In addition to the new troops, two Army brigades, a transportation company and a Marine unit scheduled to return home in January are being kept in Iraq until March.

The delay affects an estimated 10,360 soldiers and Marines, some of whom already have had their service in Iraq extended from 10 months to 12.

The units being held back are the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 25th Infantry Division, with 4,400 soldiers, currently based in northern Iraq; 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based in Baghdad, with 3,500 troops; the Army's 116th Transportation Unit, with 160 soldiers; and 2,300 Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, whose home base is on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

U.S. and Iraqi troops recaptured the insurgent-held city of Falluja last month in a major push to restore the interim government's authority ahead of the elections.

U.S., British and Iraqi troops launched a similar operation last week to rout out insurgent positions south of Baghdad.

As of Wednesday, 1,256 Americans and 146 allied troops have died in Iraq since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The January elections are meant to elect a transitional parliament that will draft a new constitution, and the Pentagon has said that balloting will represent "the next step towards a more peaceful and stable environment" in the embattled country.

Iraq's neighbors tightening borders

Interior ministers from Egypt and the countries neighboring Iraq promised Wednesday to strengthen security along their borders in an attempt to prevent insurgent infiltration ahead of the January elections.

"I believe we have reached consensus on just about all the issues we discussed," said Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, Iran's interior minister.

Iraq's neighbors also pledged to train and equip Iraqi police and border guards and help the U.S.-backed government hold elections as scheduled.

The two-day conference was attended by interior ministers from Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran -- along with Iraq. (Map)

A special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also attended the sessions.

Iraqi Interior Minister Fallah al-Naquib urged neighboring countries to do more to stop the infiltration of terrorists into Iraqi territory.

"Any instability in Iraq will impact the whole region," he told the conference.

Iraq has accused some of its neighbors, particularly Iran and Syria, of not doing enough to stem the inflow of insurgents and terrorists from their territories.

The United States has accused Iran of meddling in Iraq's affairs by sending men and arms to destabilize the country.

While Iran has denied these allegations, it said stability in Iraq is of paramount concern. According to the Tehran government, its side of the border is closely guarded, and any illegal crossing will be stopped.

In September, a U.S. delegation directly confronted Syrian President Bashar Assad with evidence that Syrians were aiding militants crossing the border, a senior American government official said.

President Bush had warned Syria before about its failure to police its borders, but the meeting with Assad -- as opposed to lower-level Syrian officials -- sent a direct message.

Other developments

  • U.S. and Iraqi forces detained 15 suspected militants Wednesday during raids in Iraq's Babil province, a U.S. military news release said. The raids were part an operation launched November 24 to rout out insurgent positions south of Baghdad. More than 200 suspected insurgents have been captured during the operation, the release said.
  • A car bomb attack on an Army combat patrol killed seven Iraqi civilians Tuesday in the northern Iraqi city of Baiji, a military spokesman said. The blast wounded 19 people, including two U.S. soldiers. Military officials said they believe the vehicle's driver also was killed. Another U.S. soldier was wounded in a second attack in the city.
  • On Tuesday, Iraqi security forces formally assumed control of the south-central Iraqi city of Najaf, the scene of heavy fighting during the summer, a U.S. Marine commander said.
  • CNN's Jamie McIntyre and Kasra Naji also contributed to this report.

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