Jan. 30 Election a 'High Stakes' Event for Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 12, 2005 Troops from Multinational Force Iraq are working to ensure every Iraqi who wants to vote has the chance to do so in the Jan. 30 election.
The election is "a high stakes" event for the Iraqi people and for the coalition, said a senior MNFI official. "This is the first democratic election since the state of Iraq was established in 1928," said the official. "I guess you could really say it's the first election in this part of Iraq in 5,000 years."
The Independent Election Commission of Iraq is running the election. The commission, set up under the Transitional Administration Law, has nine members.
Iraq has 13 million eligible voters, roughly half the population. They already are registered to vote through the identification process set up for distributing rations. The commission plans to set up 6,000 voting sites nationwide, each with up to five voting booths. Iraqis living in 14 other countries also may vote in the election.
Iraqis will be voting for members of the 275-seat National Assembly. That group will then choose a president, deputy presidents and prime minister. Then the assembly will become a constitutional convention and design a permanent government for the country.
At the end of December, 256 "entities," or parties, and 6,239 assembly candidates were registered for the election. The administrative law states that 25 percent of the assembly must be women.
The commission can call on MNFI for support. The official said any request from the commission must be in writing; it must be appropriate for the MNFI to provide the support; and it must be available. "The areas that we are primarily involved in are security, logistics and communications," the official said.
He said the MNFI has a good relationship with the commission and with the United Nations group that is helping the commission.
As the elections approach, more requests are coming from the commission, especially in the security area. While it is important that MNFI provide support to the commission, it is more important that the Iraqis run this election, the official said. Coalition forces are not, for example, involved in any voter-education effort, nor will coalition troops pass out literature on the elections. "It's best if that material is handed directly from Iraqi security forces or Iraqi people to Iraqis and not from MNFI," he said.
Security obviously is the greatest concern as the election approaches, and officials expect violence in the country to intensify. Members of the voting commission, for example, received eight threats in November, 54 in December, and, as of Jan. 10, already had received 25 credible threats this month.
The two most dangerous provinces now are Anbar and Ninewa. The commission is working with MNFI units to increase security in those provinces, but this will be tough, the official said, especially in Anbar, where Marines and soldiers recently ended a major offensive against insurgents in Fallujah.
Iraqi and coalition officials are adamant that the election must have an Iraqi face, which means Iraqis must provide the security. MNFI officials are planning a layered security system around the polling places. Iraqi police, and Iraqi army and National Guard personnel will provide immediate security around polling places. The next layer of security will be in surrounding neighborhoods, where people and vehicles will be screened. Beyond that, other checkpoints will set up. "MNFI may be involved in the outer cordon and as a quick-reaction force," the official said.
The commission has asked that coalition forces play a greater role in Ninewa and Anbar provinces.
Iraqi officials are looking at a number of emergency provisions to help the election be successful. These include declaring a three-day public holiday centered around the elections, closing schools from Jan. 17 to Feb. 1, restricting vehicle movement around polling centers due to the threat from vehicle-borne bombs, limiting pedestrians in polling areas, and so on. Some of these provisions already have been agreed to; others are under discussion.
After the election, the votes will be counted and the National Assembly will convene at the end of February.