Iraqis Taking Lead in Elections; Coalition in Support Role
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2005 Iraqis are planning and implementing their own elections Jan. 30, and American and other coalition forces will operate only in support roles, a senior U.S. officer explained Jan. 27.
"Our role is very much one of supporting the Iraqi authorities, both the civil authorities who are responsible for administrating the election (and) -- as we do every day not only on election day -- our counterparts in the Iraqi security forces," said Army Brig. Gen. Doug Lute, director of operations for U.S. Central Command in an interview with the Pentagon Channel.
Lute said support for Iraqi civil authorities is in the form of advice and logistics support.
Most of Iraq is ready to conduct safe elections. "We believe you can have full safe and secure elections almost any day that you choose to hold them" in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces, he said. "It's really the four troubled provinces, if you will, or challenged provinces that have our attention."
He explained that security concerns are centered on the area commonly referred to as the "Sunni Triangle," the area surrounding Baghdad to the south, southwest and north.
In these areas, coalition officials expect "spectacular acts of violence" by anti-Iraqi insurgents or terrorists led by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Lute said. But, he added, Iraqi security forces, with coalition assistance, are taking "measures that we think are prudent to try to mitigate the risk of a physical attack and to try to also mitigate the risk of intimidation."
He said the security requirements are considerable with 5,000 polling places throughout Iraq. Security measures put into place by Iraqi authorities include not allowing vehicle traffic in the immediate vicinity of polling locations, closing borders, and prohibiting civilians from carrying weapons in public.
"These sorts of things are just common sense," Lute said. "Beyond that, there's been an effort to make the likely targets of the insurgents more difficult targets, these are defensive steps which I don't really want to go into details, but they're common-sense things that restrict access and restrict or impede the effects of a potential explosion."
He said the Jan. 30 elections are "just the beginning of the path that really is characterized across the whole width, the whole depth of the year 2005, which is sprinkled with political milestones that lead to the end of 2005, when there's yet another national election -- but now with the backing of a constitution, which the Iraqi people (will) have approved."
As important as they are, the general warned, the elections will not signal an end to the violence that has plagued Iraq. "We should not delude ourselves here," he said. "When we wake up on the 31st of January, Iraq is still going to be a violent place, and it's still going to have an emerging government, and it's still going to have relatively immature security forces. The elections themselves are not going to prove to be a panacea."
He also had a message for U.S. and other coalition military troops serving in Iraq: Don't fall into "Groundhog Day syndrome." Lute said American servicemembers need to understand that they're contributing to something historic.
"The 30th of January 2005 is something they're going to remember for the rest of their lives," he said of the troops. "Because for each individual there, they're giving in some way a measure of themselves to the 25 million Iraqis who have an opportunity to do something that is absolutely historic.
"It's a historic event that they will have firsthand participation in, and they should be pound of that," he continued. "They should know that their leadership is very much appreciative of the inconvenience, the hazards, the sacrifices that they face, and that what they're doing is very important."