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Iraqis Go to the Polls; Security Provides Confidence

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

RUSAFA, Iraq, Dec. 15, 2005 – "All the time and money you have spent training the Iraqi army, you harvest it today," Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Mobdir Hatim Hothya al-Delemy told 3rd Infantry Division Commander Army Maj. Gen. William Webster following a tour of polling places today.

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Iraqis of all ethnicities and religions wait to enter a polling place in Baghdad on election day. Iraqi security forces managed more than 1,350 polling places in Baghdad alone. Photo by Jim Garamone
  

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Initial indications in and around Baghdad were that more Iraqis were voting than during the constitutional referendum, and the level of violence appeared to be low, officials said.

Army Col. Joseph P. Di Salvo, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said more Iraqis were going to their polling places early. He conducted an early morning tour of the southern end of his area of responsibility, and 50 to 100 Iraqis already were in line when the polls opened at 7 a.m., he said.

Di Salvo said he noticed more women voters compared to earlier experiences. Iraqi Brig. Gen. Jasim Hamed Jhibr, commander of the 3rd Public Order Brigade, said the cooperation among his unit, local police and Iraqi army units gave people a better sense of security and may have contributed to the increased turnout of women.

Webster said the Iraqis understand the importance of the election. "The Iraqis are a tough people, and they are determined to have their voice in this election," he said.

Webster said the feeling on the streets was one of celebration. Iraqi families made the voting process a family affair, with young children accompanying their parents to the polls.

"Would they bring the family if they felt threatened?" asked Brig. Gen. Jawad Romi Aldaini, commander of the 6th Division's 2nd Brigade.

Election day started quietly with a full moon shining down on the city. Overnight there was a bit of "wild" gunfire, but no one - neither Iraqi nor coalition - paid this much mind. The day dawned to silence, with all vehicular traffic banned and even coalition helicopter flights limited.

A ride to the southern portion of the 3rd Division's area of responsibility showed 30 Iraqi police cars, about seven checkpoints and a number of coalition tactical vehicles. A check of the polling sites found all voting materials in place, election workers present and ready, and Iraqi police providing security inside the buildings.

Iraqi public order battalions and Iraqi army units provided a second security ring, searching people before allowing them in to the polling places. Iraqi units and coalition forces were still farther back, ready to respond if terrorists tried something the local units could not handle. Webster said two mortar rounds fell at one site in the morning. It reopened after closing for 15 minutes.

One scare surfaced, however, when rumors began circulating in the middle of the night that terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq group had poisoned the water. Health ministry officials responded quickly, testing the water and then issuing a report that the water was safe to drink.

But Iraqi and coalition officials are not patting themselves on the backs. Iraqi officials said this election is one of the terrorists' last chances to stop the spread of democracy. American officials said they had received intelligence that up to 50 car bombs would be launched in Baghdad alone. "We're not taking chances," Webster said.

Other reports said terrorists would launch mortars and rockets at polling stations. Iraqi army units and coalition personnel charted the possible launching points, and Iraqi army units hid in these places, ready to ambush those who wished to disrupt the elections.

Iraqi police and army units remained alert as they escorted ballot boxes to counting houses. "Keep the soldiers vigilant, help them do what they need to do, and this will be a great day for Iraq," Di Salvo told Jasim.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn election official marks a voter's finger while another man places his ballot in the box at the Rusafa polling station. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageIraqi families in a rural part of Baghdad head to the polls on election day. Iraqi security forces virtually sealed the city, and few incidents marred early voting. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn Iraqi special policeman has his finger over the tripper of a machine gun outside a polling place in Eastern Baghdad. Iraqi security forces planned and executed operations to hold the national election. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn Iraqi voter places his ballot in the box at the Zafaraniya polling station in East Baghdad. Thousands of people had cycled through the voting station by mid-morning, Iraqi election officials said. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Maj. Gen. William Webster (center), commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and Task Force Baghdad, speaks with children outside a polling site in East Baghdad. Webster escorted ABC correspondent Elizabeth Vargas to voting stations. Neither the general nor any of his troops entered the polling places. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageElection officials process a voter at the Zafaraniya polling station early on election day. On the table is the election ballot itself. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn Iraqi woman walks to the Rusafa polling station carrying an Iraqi flag. In the background are Iraqi army and police providing security at the site. Thousands of voters filed through the Rusafa site. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageIt's "V for victory" outside a polling center in Rusafa, Iraq. Voting in East Baghdad went remarkably smoothly, Iraqi security officials said. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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