Iraqi, American Troops Work Together to Ensure Safe Election
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2005 American and Iraqi troops in Taji, Iraq, are working together to ensure a safe environment for Iraqis to vote in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.
About 3,500 American soldiers with 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and 2,100 Iraqi soldiers with 1st Mechanized Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division, are working to keep insurgents from interfering with the scheduled nationwide election, the two units' commanders said in Taji today.
Security measures being put into place include stopping all vehicle traffic during polling hours to prevent car bombings, increasing military missions in the area, and freeing Iraqi army soldiers to secure checkpoints during polling hours.
"Both units, U.S. and Iraqi, have surged quite a few forces out into the battle space in order to have a lot of troops on the ground," U.S. Army Col. David Bishop, commander of 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said from Taji in a briefing via video link to reporters in the Pentagon. "And so if there are vehicles moving on the roads tomorrow, they'll be stopped and questioned."
Bishop's brigade is partnered with the Iraqi army's 1st Mechanized Brigade, 9th Division. The division's commander, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Bashar Ayoub, briefed alongside Bishop. He said his unit's morale is high as the soldiers take more active roles in defending their country from terrorists.
He told of a mission Oct. 12, in which the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, of the 9th Division, deployed outside their home area of Taji for the first time to secure polling stations. "I wish we had the chance to ... give you the idea how glad they were, how anxious to take control outside of the Taji area, especially in these checkpoints," Ayoub said.
He also said the division's 1st Brigade, which has a partnership with Bishop's unit, has very high morale going into the election. "They are so capable," he said. "And their morale is very, very high to have this mission."
Morale is high among Bishop's American troops, as well. "They know how important this mission is, and they're very focused on accomplishing it," he said. "They know that the referendum tomorrow is a historical day for the Iraqi people. They're proud to be there."
Bishop's brigade has scored several successes in a recent surge of operations leading up to the election, detaining up to 80 insurgents and 16 weapons caches in the past month, he said.
Attacks have doubled in Bishop's sector in the past two weeks from four to five attacks per day to eight to nine attacks. However, more attacks doesn't necessarily mean more effective attacks, he noted. Improvised explosive devices are the primary means of insurgent attack in Taji, and coalition forces there find about 50 percent of them before they explode, Bishop said. So far in October, coalition and Iraqi troops have been finding about 64 percent of IEDs.
As many other American and coalition officials have said, acts of violence were expected to increase before and during the election. And Bishop and Ayoub concurred.
"We are ready to face any acts of terrorists," Ayoub said. "And all our soldiers and officers are ready in each point they are occupying now to deal with the terrorists no matter which way they are going to act against us."
"We know there are people out there that would very much like to impede this election tomorrow, and we are prepared for it," Bishop said. "We do not have a specific indicator of a threat in this area. However, we're prepared for all of them.