Polling Center Incident Shows Iraqis' Spirit, Casey Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2005 The top U.S. military officer in Iraq said today he knew Iraqi officials and security forces had matters well in hand in the days prior to the Dec. 15 election.
"Everywhere that I went, I left with the feeling that we were dealing with confident and competent Iraqi leaders who had this election under control," Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said from his headquarters in Iraq during a satellite news conference with Pentagon reporters.
The Dec. 15 election boasted the highest participation - estimated at 65 to 70 percent of registered Iraqi voters - compared to the previous two Iraqi elections held Jan. 30 and Oct. 15, Casey said.
"And the levels of violence were below both January and October," Casey said. "The Iraqi security forces also performed superbly across Iraq as they maintained security on the polling sites."
The four-star general, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, related a story about terrorists who were trying to destroy a polling site at a school in Karmah, Iraq, on the night before the election. He said the terrorists knocked down a wall with a homemade bomb. Yet, the facility, located between Baghdad and Fallujah, was quickly repaired, Casey said.
"The Iraqis fixed it and were open for business and polling at 7 o'clock in the morning," Casey said. "That was the spirit that led the day," he said.
Casey cited the accomplishments made across Iraq in less than three years as "unprecedented."
"If you think about it, Saddam Hussein was still ruling Iraq three years ago and tyrannizing the Iraqi people," the general pointed out. Today, the Iraqis are liberated from Hussein's brutal regime, Casey said, and are rebuilding their nation according to democratic principles contained in their new constitution.
"Yesterday, they elected an assembly that will form a government to lead them for the next four years," Casey said, despite the efforts of a stubborn insurgency.
Casey said American servicemembers who've served in Iraq should also take credit for Iraq's latest successful election. "And particularly the loved ones of our fallen comrades," the general said.
The new Iraqi government will soon take the reins and begin work in confronting the country's challenges, Casey said. The general predicted Iraqi political debate whether or not to amend the country's new constitution and over federalism. But the terrorists won't be silent, Casey said, while Iraqi legislators debate and discuss their country's future. "I expect that these debates will be done against a background of violence," the general said. But he added that as the political process continues, the insurgency will lose much of its steam.
"We should not expect the insurgency to just go away because of yesterday's great success," Casey said, "but we should expect it to be gradually weakened and reduced as more and more Iraqis adopt the political process, and the root causes of the insurgency are addressed by the new Iraqi government and by the coalition."