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Iraq Takes Another Step Along Road to Democracy

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2005 – Years from now, the Iraqi people may look on Oct. 15, 2005, as the beginning of their new lives under freedom.

Iraqi voters go to the polls to decide on their new constitution - the first constitution in the country's history that is the product of a freely elected assembly.

The referendum continues the process of establishing a democratic government in Iraq. U.S. officials say that a democracy in the heart of the Middle East will be an example to the rest of the region. Coalition officials want an Iraq that respects the rights of all people, does not pose a threat to its own people and does not threaten its neighbors.

The referendum is simply the most recent step that started with the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. In the immediate aftermath of his fall, coalition military forces controlled Iraq, soon succeeded by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The authority set up an Iraqi Governing Council. That group and coalition officials wrote the Transitional Administrative Law, which set out the path toward sovereignty and an elected government.

The coalition returned sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 28, 2004, and an interim Iraqi government took power that day.

In the face of a growing insurgency, the Iraqi government began building the security services and worked to institute conditions where an election could take place. It all came together on Jan. 30, 2005, when Iraqis flocked to polling places all over the nation.

Men and women sporting the blue fingers - caused by the dye used to keep voting honest - held their hands up for the world to see.

The election created the Transitional National Assembly. The group chose the country's president, vice presidents, prime minister and department ministers. They also became a committee of the whole and began writing the Iraqi constitution.

The constitution is very much a work in progress. Days before the people were to vote on it, Iraqi politicians were still making changes in an attempt to encourage Sunni Arabs to support the document.

Security for the election obviously is a huge concern. The Iraqis seek to duplicate the success they achieved in January, when about 8 million people voted and there were no insurgent incidents that impacted the process.

Iraqi officials said Iraqi security forces - now almost 200,000 strong - will provide the protection in and around polling places. Iraqi security forces also will provide most of the quick reaction forces. Coalition forces will stand by and aid Iraqis if needed.

If the Iraqis approve their constitution, they will once again go to the polls Dec. 15 to elect their permanent government.

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