Coalition Troops Observe Early Iraqi Voting
By Army Staff Sgt. Jody Metzger
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Jan. 30, 2009 With coalition soldiers watching from a distance, Iraq’s provincial elections got off to a smooth start Jan. 28 as the country’s security forces, hospital patients and detainees had a chance to cast their ballots early.
Army Col. Wilton Gorske, left, chief of communications with the 4th Infantry Division serving in Multinational Division Baghdad, gets a briefing from Army Maj. Peter Dargle, officer in charge of the division operations section’s Iraqi security forces cell, at the Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad’s International Zone during the first day of voting in the Iraqi provincial elections, Jan. 28, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jody Metzger
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The rest of the Iraqi population goes to the polls tomorrow.
Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers monitored events with satellite signals, radio frequencies and live-streaming Internet video feeds.
Key leaders and soldiers sat hunched over monitors at the Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad’s International Zone, avidly focused on event calendars and news reports regarding the polling. The room was a convergence of wires and several computer systems, all engineered and set up to monitor election-day security.
The task of assembling the operations center was given to 4th Infantry Division soldiers who work in Multinational Division Baghdad’s communications and signal section. Since arriving at the CPIC, the 10 computer specialists have worked to create a workspace that would allow monitoring of classified and unclassified Internet and telecommunications as well as live video throughout Baghdad’s voting sites.
Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth Heise, a network and satellite noncommissioned officer in charge for the communications and signal section, participated in the setup. His primary mission was setting up Internet connectivity.
The signal that supports and runs the CPIC is the key for coalition forces communication throughout the Baghdad area of operations and for international media to be able to monitor the elections. A minor issue arose with the connection’s speed.
“Because we are talking about satellite in the digital world, it takes 700 milliseconds for [data] to complete its round trip, which is a long time in satellite world,” Heise said. “The normal time is about 5 milliseconds, but because it has to travel about 40,000 miles round trip -- up to the satellite and back -- it just takes a long time.”
The dynamic networking of satellite and radio communications systems allows U.S. forces to monitor the election proceedings throughout the area of operations without having to interfere with the Iraqi security forces’ operations on the ground.
The coalition forces role of observation and outer-cordon security in such a large undertaking allows the Iraqi government and the security forces to step forward and demonstrate their competence and confidence in assuming an ever-increasing role in the security and continued progress of their nation, officials said.
“This election is completely run and led by the Iraqis, while the coalition forces are observing in support of the government of Iraq proceedings,” Army Maj. Peter Dargle, officer in charge of the Iraqi security forces cell in the division’s operations section, said.
Dargle has monitored the Iraqi security forces for nearly 14 months, and he said they have come a long way in that time, particularly in their enthusiasm and ability to independently orchestrate such an event.
“They have gone through the planning and decision-making process [and] executed rehearsals,” he said. “Some of the units have been more elaborate, going as far as creating a mock polling site.
“[One Iraqi army] division set up a mock polling site with a building and barriers,” he continued. “They even got some of their females from their organization to represent female search teams as well as female voters. They basically did a dress rehearsal on the site. It is far from what we have ever really seen them do before.”
Six months ago, he said, the Iraqis would have turned to coalition soldiers for guidance. “At this point,” Dargle said, “they have really shown that they are ready and willing to take the lead.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Jody Metzger serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad public affairs office.)