Iraqi Election: Monumental Moment for Country
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Jan. 23, 2005 The Iraqi election Jan. 30 will mark the beginning of a "powerful period" in the history of the country, the commander of the Multinational Corps Iraq said recently.
"Clearly for the war in Iraq, but also in the greater war on terrorism, this is a monumental moment we're getting ready to go through," said Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz. "All the corps' efforts are directed to give every Iraqi the opportunity to vote if they want."
Metz said the terrorist strategy is to intimidate their fellow Sunnis so they won't vote in the election and then say the election is invalid. The main problems are in four majority-Sunni provinces: Anbar, Ninewa, Salah ad Din and Baghdad.
"We are working hard in those provinces to give people the chance to vote," he said. "Every single vote is a vote against the old way of doing business and a vote for a new Iraq."
And the election is feared by all enemies. "You wouldn't have (terrorists Musab al) Zarqawi and (Osama) bin Laden coming up on the net opposing this election if it wasn't important to them," Metz said. "They care very much about this thing."
The insurgents are a small group of people that want often opposing things. He said Zarqawi's group wants to bring all Islam back to the Caliphate the successors to Muhammad. The Baathist former regime elements "are nothing but a bunch of thugs who just want to be back in power," he said.
If the coalition were not in Iraq, these two groups would be at each others' throats. Now they are working together, Metz said, "but they are on a path of collision."
The men who carry out the attacks and they are mostly men are also a mixed lot. Some do it to feed their families, Metz said. They are unemployed and the insurgents pay them to attack Iraqi and coalition forces. "There's a bunch out there who are criminals and enjoy the confusion because in that confusion it makes their criminal activities easier," he said.
The insurgents are focused on Baghdad, he noted. "He doesn't care how many (improvised explosive devices) we find, or how many (vehicle-borne) IEDs go off on the way to the target. He can invest a lot of time and money in the effort and only needs one to cause horrific casualties. The bottom line is Baghdad is where it's at. This is the center of gravity. This is the place where, if he makes noise, it will be heard."
Metz said he is proud of the troops and the professionalism they exhibit as they approach the mission. "We really have a force that knows how to fight the tactical battle," he said. But the strategic battle is still up in the air.
He said that soon after the Marines and soldiers attacked in Fallujah in November 2004 he was confident that the tactical battle would be a victory. "We are still working on the strategic fight in the city," he said.
All the districts of Fallujah are now open and people are returning. "But that win isn't sealed until Iraqi security forces mainly police are re-formed and the city council governs and the city operates as a normal city," he said.
The Iraqi forces are taking their part in the fight and learning with each exposure to battle, Metz said. They participated in the fight for Fallujah, and performed well. But the Iraqi army needs leaders more than it needs equipment.
"I fly over this country and I see bunkers and vast fields where millions of tons of munitions were bought and stacked," Metz said. "But there is more to warfare than material. There's a whole big piece in there where the leadership has to come along with being able to fight a unit. We shouldn't be surprised if that is coming along slowly. We'd all like to see it faster, but it is coming along."
And those forces are what anti-Iraqi forces fear the most. "It is those forces that will help us get out of here," he said. The Iraqi forces will allow the coalition to continue and expand the pressure on the insurgents.
All of this depends on Iraqis embracing the vote, but the security situation is tenuous in some places in Iraq. "Can I guarantee that every voter is going to be safe? No," he said. "I'd like to put a bubble over every voter. But we're going to do all we can to help the Iraqis get to the polls.
"There will be ugly polling sites on the 30th," he said. "But we've got to push on and have the vote and get on with the constitution and a fully elected government in place in a year."
He said the battle in Iraq is just one part of the greater war on terrorism. "The global war on terrorism is a war of values," he said. "People have got to decide which set of values they want to have."
The United States must win the war and it will be decided by which population has the greatest will. "We have to express that will every single day and not get deterred when we tragically lose a Bradley full of soldiers or another Iraqi police station," Metz said.
He said the Nazis presented a tremendous challenge to democracy as did communism. "Now there is a tremendous challenge to our way of life from global terrorism," he said.
The battle in Iraq is also important for the future of Iraq. "It can lead the Iraqi people toward the prosperity they richly deserve they have been a horribly repressed people," Metz said. "It will take a generation for them to regain the initiative and understand the freedom they have. But I'm optimistic. I fly around the country and look down (at) all the little towns (that) have new houses going up. So someone else is optimistic out there too."