On the Ground: U.S. Forces Step Back to Allow Iraqis to Oversee Election
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2009 U.S. forces, having helped their Iraqi counterparts for more than a month prepare for the country’s Jan. 31 provincial elections, are now stepping back, confident their planning and practice has paid off.
“At this point, we’re trying to enable, not to direct, the Iraqis in how to accomplish their mission,” U.S. Army Capt. Nicholas Doerr, of 1st Armored Division’s Task Force 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, said.
In support of the U.S.-Iraqi status-of-forces agreement that took effect Jan. 1, U.S. soldiers rehearsed election security plans with Iraqi security forces Jan. 25 at Combat Outpost Meade, southeast of Baghdad, in an area once known for sectarian violence. In the past year there has been a significant decrease in attacks on Iraqi civilians as the “Sons of Iraq” civilian security group, the Iraqi army and the reconciliation program have greatly increased security and helped to reinstate a sense of normalcy.
For the rehearsal, Iraqi soldiers conducted a mock election drill on a large sand table. The unit acted out friendly and enemy actions, and the soldiers rehearsed their actions. While acting out the security plan, the Iraqi soldiers talked through their mission, critical tasks, actions and decisions to their leaders.
“The complexity of the display may seem a little elaborate, but it’s all just a tool we’re providing to our allies to aid them in securing their own democratic future,” Doerr said.
Everyone was clear on their election-day role: Iraqi security forces will be overseeing election security, and U.S. soldiers will help if they are needed.
“We are asking the coalition forces for air support, especially in [medical evacuations], should we need them,” Iraqi army Col. Abdalah Ramadan Atia said. “However, the coalition will have very little involvement in this operation. We have experience from the 2005 elections. The units are trained and prepared.”
The combined forces got a trial run at the election when Iraqi security forces, detainees, hospital patients and other special-needs cases were allowed to vote three days before the general population.
About 3,000 detainees in coalition custody voted yesterday at eight polling stations in U.S. Theater Internment Facilities.
Multinational Force Iraq worked with the Iraqi government, the Independent High Electoral Commission, which the coalition established in 2004 to oversee Iraqi elections, and other agencies to provide credible and legitimate special-needs voting. A similar process was followed for detainees to vote in the 2005 elections.
The Iraqi government provided the poll workers, ballots and administrative support, and Multinational Force Iraq organized the IHEC-authorized detainees for the safe and orderly election. In addition, dozens of international and other IHEC-approved observers monitored the voting process.
Balloting opened at 7 a.m. and continued until all eligible detainees passed through the polling stations.
Iraqi correctional officers and linguists who work with the detainees said they were honored to be part of the historic event and felt the elections are another sign that Iraq is moving forward as a democratic nation.
Iraqi police also voted yesterday, at the Bilal Al Habashi School in Istaqlal Qada of northeast Baghdad.
“This is a good step for Iraq and the people. They have free opinions to vote wherever they want and for any person they want to give peace in Iraq,” Iraqi police Col. Majeed Khalil said.
The special round of voting was set aside to ensure that soldiers will be able to provide security for the general election.
“We have all the emergency stuff we need, and we are going to do our best to provide security to the people so that the people are able to vote free,” Khalil said.
For those who voted early, the importance of that decision was not forgotten.
“It is very good,” said Bakr Hdait, a hospital janitor from Adhamiyah, who was casting his vote. “We have to choose the person who is going to work for us. He’s going to make a lot of things good for us.”
Iraqi security forces and U.S. soldiers also conducted a combined operation Jan. 25 to inspect and secure polling sites for the upcoming provincial elections in the Mahmudiyah Qada.
The combined operation involved soldiers and military working dogs from the Iraqi army and U.S. soldiers from the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
The soldiers inspected and secured polling sites at four schools in the Warij region, which will be used as voting centers. Ensuring the sites are safe is a responsibility of the Iraqi police, who will be posted at the polling sites on election day.
“There will be 15 [Iraqi] soldiers and 10 [Iraqi police officers] at each polling site. I am using all my resources to make this a good election,” Iraqi army Maj. Jabbar Hafuth, a battalion commander, said.
Throughout the pre-election security sweeps, Multinational Division Baghdad military police dogs searched for possible explosives at each polling site.
“The [Iraqi army] is gaining good knowledge working with [Multinational Division Baghdad] soldiers during security patrols on tactics, techniques and procedures,” Army Staff Sgt. Roderick Buck, who serves with Company C, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment, said.
Iraqi soldiers also are working with Iraqi police and the Sons of Iraq to establish vehicle checkpoints on roads and highways in the Mahmudiyah area.
“I am happy to protect my country and school. I want to help all the kids and hold free elections. I want leaders to help Iraq and the new government,” Abaas Kathum Abdulah, an Iraqi soldier, said.
(Compiled from Multinational Forces Iraq and Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)