Sunni Turnout Substantial in Iraq Voting, Casey Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2005 Sunni voter turnout in today's Iraqi election appeared much greater than it was during the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq said today.
News coverage of long lines of Iraqis waiting to cast their ballots across Iraq today already indicated a higher overall turnout than during the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said during a live satellite broadcast appearance during today's Pentagon "town hall" meeting.
"The Iraqi people have had a great day today," Casey said, noting that the level of terrorist-conducted violence during the election seemed to be at or below that experienced during Oct. 15.
Casey pointed out that Sunni participation in today's election seems much higher than in the previous voting. The Sunnis, many of whom live in Anbar province, had largely boycotted the Jan. 30 and Oct. 15 elections.
"We expect the turnout out there to have increased fairly substantially over the October referendum level," Casey said.
Casey said the Iraqi people and the coalition have accomplished amazing things in a relatively short period of time.
"If you think about it, three years ago Saddam Hussein was still tyrannizing the Iraqi people," Casey said.
Since then, the Iraqis have achieved sovereignty, held elections for a transitional government, performed a peaceful transition to an interim government, wrote and voted on a constitution and built a more than 200,000-member Iraqi security force, Casey said.
And, today, Iraqis elected a 275-member assembly, Casey said, that will function under that new constitution.
"All of that in less than three years, and done against a ruthless and resilient insurgency," Casey said. "It's remarkable, and as I said, it's unprecedented."
Political and economic challenges in Iraq will have to be confronted and solved in 2006, Casey said. The terrorists, he pointed out, can't be counted out.
"We should expect the insurgency not to just go away because there were great elections today," Casey said. However, he expected the insurgency in Iraq to be gradually reduced over time as its root causes are addressed.
The town hall meeting also featured Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Casey thanked the Pentagon's senior leaders for providing the support -- including troops, beans and bullets -- to prosecute the war.
"It empowers us to spend our energy and our time on the things that will make us successful in this mission," Casey said.
Casey said he couldn't be prouder of the U.S. military men and women and coalition forces serving in Iraq.
"I can't tell you what a great solace (it is) to all of our senior leaders to know that they have the best armed forces in the world out there when the going gets the toughest - and they have never let us down," Casey said.
Rumsfeld praised Casey after the general signed off from Iraq.
"Somebody call him up and thank him," the secretary said of Casey. "He's doing a great job, God bless him."