Iraqis Turn Overwhelmingly to Democracy
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 30, 2005 Today, the Iraqi people let it be known they understand and value democracy.
With voting complete, members of the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq said the response exceeded their dreams. "We exercised for the first time a real democratic act in this great land of ours," said Commission Member Safoit al-Rasheed.
Terrorists did not succeed in their plan to halt or disrupt the elections for the National Assembly. "They did not make Baghdad's street run with blood, as they threatened," al-Rasheed said.
The commission praised Iraqi and multinational security forces forces for their efforts in the successful voting effort. "The security plan worked," he said.
Iraqi security forces protected the more than 5,000 voting centers in the country. They also formed the first security ring around polling places. Beyond them, multinational forces manned checkpoints, patrolled in the air and stood ready as quick-reaction forces. Officials said no incident required calling for the quick-reaction forces.
But there was violence. In Baghdad, mortars fell on some neighborhoods and suicide bombers launched scattered attacks. In other areas of the country, there were almost random incidents.
Government officials said the recent series of captures of members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's network and Baathists blunted any offensive the terrorists could launch. Western reporters estimated that about 22 people were killed in election-related violence.
Earlier in the day, Iraqi election officials estimated that 72 percent of the total eligible population had voted. Officials later retracted that, saying some election officials in the provinces were carried away by the euphoria of the moment. But there was no denying that Iraqis were voting in droves.
In Sadr City, lines stretched down the street from polling places. In Mosul, a city that was a battleground in November and December, people peacefully lined up to cast their ballots. Many people there brought their children as they cast their ballots to witness their place in history.
In the northern provinces of Kurdistan, officials estimated that more than 90 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls. In the Shia southern provinces, officials described voter turnout as "heavy."
While voting didn't rise to those levels in the central Sunni dominated areas, it was still respectable. Coalition forces driving through a Sunni "Red Zone" area of Baghdad were greeted with smiles, waves and people sporting their blue- dyed forefingers, showing that they had voted. People everywhere wore lapel buttons showing a picture of the Iraqi flag and the words "Vote Iraq."
Residents of the Abu Ghraib area walked about 20 kilometers to vote.
By their actions, the Iraqi people spoke loud and clear against the terrorists. "Yes, the terrorists today have devised the explosive belts," said Fayeed Ayar, another election commissioner. "But that is not to their honor that they tried to kill the innocent people. They are killing those who want to exercise their absolute right and freedom to vote.
"They directed a message to us: the message of killing," he continued. "And we directed to them a message of elections and freedom and democracy."