Security, Sunni Participation Deterred Election Violence, General Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2005 Increased numbers of capable Iraqi security forces and more Sunni involvement in the electoral process were among the factors that deterred terrorist violence before and during the Dec. 15 voting, a senior U.S. military officer told reporters at a Baghdad news conference today.
Unlike the days preceding the Jan. 30 Iraqi election, there was no jump in terrorist activity just before or during the Dec. 15 voting, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said.
"There was a significant spike in attacks just preceding the January elections," Lynch said as he pointed to multicolored graphics that compared the trends of violence during the three Iraq voting sessions held Jan. 30, Oct. 15 and Dec. 15 this year.
However, in the four days before the Dec. 15 voting and on that Election Day there was a 57-percent reduction in attacks, Lynch said, as compared to the violence experienced during the Jan. 30 voting. And, he added, there was an 80-percent drop in attacks in the days just after the Dec. 15 election as compared to what occurred after the January polling.
"So there was a significant reduction in the numbers of attacks - car bombs, suicide bombs, IEDs - for the December elections compared to last January," Lynch said. He offered several explanations:
- Iraqi and U.S. and other coalition forces worked together during several successful operations to disrupt and remove terrorist and foreign fighter influence in places like Anbar province in the months before the Dec. 15 election;
- Iraqi military and police forces - now totaling about 216,000, continue to increase in both numbers and capability and are taking over more and more security missions from U.S. and other coalition forces, and;
- There was a focused and deliberate effort to engage and convince the Sunni leadership to advocate participation in the Dec. 15 election. The Sunnis, who were favored during Saddam Hussein's now-defunct regime, had largely boycotted previous Iraq elections and had been suspected of fomenting some of the previous violence.
Iraqi soldiers and police provided the bulk of polling site security for the Dec. 15 election, Lynch said, while U.S. and other coalition forces served in a standby mode.
"We have to applaud the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, specifically the Iraqi police," Lynch said. There were 64,000 Iraqi police available for duty during the Jan. 30 election, he said, while there were more than 90,000 police deployed to provide security for the Dec. 15 voting.
Iraqi police in Mosul, Lynch said, caught two individuals bearing counterfeit identity documents who were trying to enter a polling site. And Iraqi police patrolling north Babil, Lynch said, captured a group of well-armed militants who were preparing to attack a local polling site.
During another incident in Karmah, Iraqi police and election workers repaired a polling site that was damaged by terrorists the night before the election. The polling site was ready the following morning to receive voters' ballots, he said.
"We saw fantastic performance by the Iraqi police to secure the elections on the 15th of December," Lynch said.
Lynch said participation in the electoral process skyrocketed in Anbar province -- which is mostly Sunni -- from more than 13,500 residents who voted in January to more than 365,000 people who cast ballots on Dec. 15.
Iraqi, U.S. and coalition military operations conducted over the past few months have destroyed terrorist influence over Iraqis living in the Anbar area and reclaimed control of the Syrian border, Lynch said.
Those successful operations also "resulted in an environment where over 365,000 people in an Anbar could participate in the electoral process," Lynch said.