Iraqi Forces Prove Successful in Providing Election Security
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2009 Throughout Iraq, Iraqi security forces, backed up by U.S. and coalition troops, helped ensure safety Jan. 31 as Iraqi citizens voted during provincial elections.
U.S. Army soldiers stand by to provide support to Iraqi army troops manning a checkpoint in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, Jan. 31, 2009. The Iraqi government held provincial elections in which 14,400 candidates competed for 440 seats in 14 of 18 Iraqi provinces. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jerry Saslav
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
By the end of the day, there were no reports of anyone killed or of major violence. More than 14,400 candidates competed for 440 seats in 14 of 18 Iraqi provinces during the elections.
Results will be tallied in the coming days to see who will fill the seats in the provincial legislatures. It will then take about two months for the newly elected officials to be seated.
Provincial governments make and pass laws relevant to their region based on the views and services of the people who elected them. They can be compared to the responsibilities of state governments in the United States.
These provincial elections marked the first time the Iraqi security forces took the lead in security during such an event, with U.S. forces playing a support role in the background.
In eastern Baghdad, paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, serving as part of Multinational Division Baghdad, played a supporting role to their Iraqi security forces partners across the New Baghdad district.
Polling stations across eastern Baghdad were crowded as voters were subject to security screenings by Iraqi police prior to voting. Polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 6 p.m.
Schools across eastern Baghdad were converted to polling stations. Before heading to his local polling station in New Baghdad, an Iraqi man who simply wanted to be called Mohammed expressed his excitement.
"I'm very optimistic about the vote this time around, and I feel confident in our government," said Mohammed, a taxi driver and father of two. "I feel this will be a new beginning for our country, and the population knows its responsibilities to go vote."
Each voter was marked with purple ink on his or her index finger after voting. The indelible ink prevents a person from casting multiple votes.
Campaign posters across eastern Baghdad were a common sight for several weeks leading up to the provincial elections. The local mood has changed, as many Iraqis felt the vote was the first real sign of a growing democracy.
The scene was a far cry from the last provincial elections held in 2005, which many Iraqis boycotted due to fears of violence and general lack of knowledge about candidates or political parties.
"I did not vote in 2005, because the situation was not good then," Mohammed said. "The violence was bad, and we did not have specific candidates to vote for, so I just chose not to vote."
Citizens of Baghdad’s Mahmudiyah neighborhood also went safely to the polls. The 17th Iraqi Army Division and Iraqi police were responsible for thesecurity operations in the area, with Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers in a supporting role.
Iraqi Staff Maj. Gen. Ali, commander of the 17th Iraqi Army Division, and U.S. Army Col. Pat White, commander of the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Multinational Division Baghdad, toured the Mahmudiyah polling stations on Election Day.
Ali checked each of the site's security from the outside perimeter, watching Iraqi security forces using handheld metal detectors provided by coalition forces. He offered words of encouragement and guidance to his soldiers protecting the polling stations.
"You are doing a great service to the people of our country by making it safe for them to come and vote," Ali said. "Try to make sure it is as easy as possible for the people to get their say in the vote."
Despite the obvious difference between the polling sites in the congested cities and outlying areas, the people’s attitude seemed to be the same in all locations. Ali was greeted with purple fingers and giant smiles everywhere he went.
"I am proud to have had the chance to vote for my leaders," said one local Iraqi as he showed off his purple finger.
The Jan. 31 election showed how far the Iraqi security forces have come since 2005, officials said. Coalition forces played a primary role in security procedures during the 2005 elections. This time around; however, Iraqi forces were responsible for overall security of polling sites.
The 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers noticed the significance of the event as they observed Iraqi citizens heading to the polls.
"My last deployment to Iraq was in 2004, and it is amazing to see how far Iraq has come," Army Staff Sgt. Eric Gross said. "This is a significant day for the people and country of Iraq."
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Thomas Seagrist noted the improvement in Iraqi forces. Seagrist is team chief for the 9th Iraqi Army Division Military Transition Team, attached to 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division Baghdad.
"The 9th Iraqi Army Division is a professional organization that is getting better and better every day," Seagrist said. "The 9th planned and led operations today, ensuring the security of the populace in the Madain Qada as they participated in elections."
Seagrist said the Iraqi soldiers' security accomplishment during the elections reflects their growing confidence and competence.
"I'm very impressed with the 9th Iraqi Army Division officers -- they are very professional,” Seagrist said. "One reason they are so successful is that they care deeply about the future of their nation.”
The provincial elections also were important because the Sunni populace, which constitutes about 30 percent of the population in Baghdad, has had little to no representation on the provincial council since boycotting the 2005 elections. This time, they were expected to vote in large numbers and gain some seats in the provincial government.
"One of the problems [in 2005] was the Sunni population boycotted the election. The result of that was the Kurdish and Shiia portions of the population gained unrepresentative amounts of control within both the provincial and national bodies of government," Army Lt. Col. Karl Berscheid, civil affairs planning chief for the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, said.
"Allowing the democratic process to work in a manner that is credible and legitimate, I think, will only benefit the people in the long run, because their voices will be more representatively heard and will be a more accurate representation of the population in the political bodies that are intended to govern the country," Berscheid said.
In Baghdad’s largely agrarian Madain neighborhood, citizens voted peacefully in the first election in four years. Staff Maj. Gen. Qassim, commander of the 9th Iraqi Army Division, toured the polling sites to inspect the soldiers and security.
While at one inspection site, he met with U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Eyer, senior enlisted advisor for the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The two men spoke with soldiers and ensured the polling site was functioning properly.
“The National Police were excited to work with MND-B soldiers and their [military] dog handlers prior to elections to provide a safe election day,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Mathew Kabat of the 1st Armored Division’s Company C, 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment.
The day’s successful election followed several weeks of planning, rehearsals and site checks by the Iraqi and Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers.
“These elections are a significant step in the process of rebuilding Iraq and the people look forward to a better future as the government of Iraq provides the citizens an environment to vote for new leaders,” said Army Staff Sgt. Joel Townsend, assigned to the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team Stryker K-9 unit.
In Taji, Iraq, U.S. soldiers watched hundreds of Iraqi citizens pass through razor-wire checkpoints manned by Iraqi soldiers and police on their way to prove their support for a democratic society.
“This is a day,” said a Taji resident, after he left the voting site. “This is a day for democracy.”
Residents of the Taji and Tarmiyah communities, northwest of Baghdad, went to one of about 65 sites to cast their vote for their future provincial leaders.
“This was a huge success for the government of Iraq,” said Linda Specht, embedded provincial reconstruction team leader attached to the 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. “They did a great job with security and ensuring the day went by without incident.”
(Compiled from reports by Army Sgt. 1st Class Christina Bhatti of the 25th Infantry Division, Army Sgt. Alex Licea of the 82nd Airborne Division, Army Spc. Kevin Holden of the 1st Armored Division and Army Pfc. Evna Loyd of the 1st Armored Division.)