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Iraqi Voters Flock to Polls Amid Tight Security

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2005 – Reports from Iraq's national parliamentary elections today indicate voter turnout was higher than the numbers seen for the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum, military officials here said today.

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An Iraqi boy looks on as his father dips his finger in the purple ink that indicates he has voted for the new government at a polling station in Hayji, Iraq, Dec. 15. Iraqi citizens voted to elect the first free, permanent parliamentary government that will lead this new democracy for the next four years. U.S. Air Force photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The outcome of the election will determine the first full-term government since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Iraqi security forces and Task Force Baghdad soldiers maintained security at hundreds of polling sites in and around the city as residents began lining up well before the 7 a.m. opening for the historic national elections.

About 225,000 Iraqi security forces kept the city safe - 85,000 more than were in place for the Oct. 15 referendum. Iraqi army and police took the lead on polling-site security, as coalition forces supported the Iraqis with perimeter checkpoints away from voting sites.

The tight security involved a three-stage inspection system before voters got in to the polling sites. No one with bags, cell phones or packages was allowed to enter as citizens cast their historic vote.

Despite the tight election security throughout Iraq, there were reports of sporadic violence in and around the capital city. Small-scale, sporadic terrorist attacks continued throughout the morning, but caused no serious injury or significant damage, officials said. Shortly after polling sites opened in Baghdad, a rocket landed in the International Zone, damaging a vehicle and injuring one Marine and two civilian contractors. The wounded were treated at the site for minor injuries and released.

Iraqi Army officials reported two 127 mm rocket impacts in central Baghdad about 9 a.m. One rocket landed behind a polling station. The station was temporarily closed so Iraqi army soldiers could assess the site. Three Iraqi civilians were wounded in the terrorist attack, and the polls reopened after 15 minutes.

Task Force Baghdad military police in East Baghdad reported two mortar rounds impacted near an Iraqi police station shortly after 9 a.m. Military officials reported that voting at the polling sites in the area continued undisturbed. There were no casualties in the attack.

Military police detained an individual with a fake identification card found driving in the area.

U.S. soldiers from 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, in southwestern Baghdad found an improvised explosive device while on patrol. An explosive ordnance disposal team later destroyed the homemade bomb.

Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq officials reported three armed terrorists harassed voters at four different Sadr City polling stations. An Iraqi police emergency response team and soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, quickly arrived at the scene, but the armed men had already dispersed.

In Karmah, an Iraq National Elections polling center, based at Kurmaa Primary School opened on time despite an apparent terrorist attempt to damage or destroy it on the eve of the elections. A large explosion was reported on the evening of Dec. 14 at the site. Marines and Iraqi security forces responded and discovered a hole blown in the wall and rubble in the street. An explosives team conducted a blast analysis and ensured the site was clear of any other explosives. Coalition and Iraq security forces quickly cleaned and repaired the facility to receive voters.

"Through quick and decisive action in responding to the attack and repairing the damage, Iraqi and coalition forces were able to foil the attempt by (insurgents) to deny the Iraqi people their right to vote," said Multinational Force West spokesman Marine Col. David Lapan.

Iraqi security forces and Marines maintained security at and around outer cordon sites at hundreds of polling sites around the Anbar province. Voter turnout was robust throughout the province, with preliminary reports indicating that a far higher percentage of the predominantly Sunni population voted today, officials said, than they did in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.

Overall, few security incidents were reported in Anbar province, and the murder and intimidation campaign that kept many people from the polls during previous votes never materialized.

"Today's vote exceeded all expectations," said Brig. Gen. James L. Williams, assistant division commander, 2nd Marine Division. "What we saw today was the result of months of hard work by the Iraqi government, the U.S. Ambassador and his staff, the international community, ... and Iraqi and coalition forces. Most of all, it clearly demonstrates the resolve of the local Iraqi people to take their rightful place in the democratic process."

In the provincial capital of Ramadi, where only several thousand citizens took part in the October vote, tens of thousands of voters lined the streets to vote today. Residents were observed dancing, singing and waving the Iraqi flag in a rare display of national pride.

In Fallujah, voter turnout in today's elections seemed to be as high as the estimated 90 percent in October.

In Karmah, on the outskirts of Fallujah, a polling site that was bombed by insurgents yesterday was quickly repaired and operational by the time the polls opened today. There were no casualties reported in the incident.

Elsewhere in Anbar province, in cities like Husaybah, Karabilah and Ubaydi, voter turnout was steady throughout the day. Until a few weeks ago, this area near the Syrian border was largely under the influence of al Qaeda in Iraq-led insurgents.

"No one can look at what happened in Al Anbar today and still deny progress is being made," said Williams.

(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq and Task Force Baghdad news releases.)

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Multinational Force Iraq

Click photo for screen-resolution imageThis was a familiar scene throughout Iraq today as Iraq held national parliamentary elections to seat its first permanent government since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Multinational Force Iraq photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageIraqi voters gather around a polling site in Barwana, Iraq, to vote for the first fully constitutional parliament in Iraq. U.S. Marine Corps photo   
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