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Iraqis on Point for Election; Turnout Expected to Rise

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 10, 2005 – Iraqi forces have the lead in providing security for national elections Dec. 15, officials said here today. This is a huge job, military and embassy officials said on background.

Some 230,000 Iraqi soldiers and police will provide security for more than 6,500 election sites and polling centers in the nation. The election will select members of the first permanent democratic government in Iraq's history. More than 3,800 people are running for office, officials said. They can run as individuals or as members of parties, and parties may be connected to larger coalitions.

Iraqi airwaves are filled with campaign ads, and many are quite sophisticated, a translator at the embassy said. Others are less so.

A "war of the posters" also is raging on walls and security barriers in Baghdad. In many places one candidate's posters are papered over by those for another candidate. In other places, the name of the candidate is ripped off. Officials said that in some isolated cases, police are putting up the posters. "We tell them they can't do that, but they are new to this and many are swept up in the excitement," an embassy official said.

In Baghdad alone 1,075 election sites contain 1,350 polling centers. Officials explained that some sites have more than one polling center.

While officials will not detail exactly how Iraqi forces will maintain security at polling centers, they do say they will follow the general outline that was successful in January National Assembly elections and the October constitutional referendum.

This includes a "ring system" of defense. Iraqi police will provide security for the inner ring, the area closest to the polling places. The second ring also will consist of Iraqi soldiers or special police battalions. They will set up checkpoints and conduct searches before allowing citizens to proceed to polling sites.

Beyond this is a third ring consisting of some Iraqi army battalions and coalition forces. This is a quick reaction force ready to ride in if Iraqi security forces on the inner rings encounter something they cannot handle. "We will be there if we are needed," a U.S. military official said. "I don't think we will be (needed). We weren't in October or January, and the Iraqi forces were a lot less capable then."

As part of security measures, Iraqi officials will temporarily halt all vehicular traffic near polling places and stop travel between provinces.

Embassy officials expect more voters this election than came out for the constitutional referendum. Only 40 percent of voters in Anbar province voted in the October election, which was up from only 4 percent who voted in January. Officials here and in Anbar expect that number to rise.

Also, voter turn out in the Shiia Arab provinces in southern Iraq was lower than expected in October. "Part of this was the confidence that the referendum was going to pass," a senior embassy official said. "The Shiia realize how important this election is, and they will go to the polls in force."

Iraqi election officials have added polling sites throughout the country. In the Baghdad region, officials added 46 polling centers, mostly in outlying areas. In January, some Iraqis walked 11 miles to reach a polling place in Baghdad. While this complicates an already complicated security situation, it probably will increase turn out.

Overall, officials said, as many as 10 million Iraqis may vote on Dec. 15. "This is not a bad turnout when you consider we had only 54 percent of registered voters turn out for the presidential election in 2004, and no one was shooting at them," a senior military official said.

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