Iraq election security effort rounds into shape
January 29, 2005
The massive, wide-ranging security effort by U.S. and Iraqi troops for Sunday’s historic elections rounded into shape Friday, even as sporadic fighting continued in flashpoint cities throughout the country.
In Ramadi, U.S. forces said they have established 10 polling stations throughout the city — five manned by U.S. Marines and five by Army troops of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Security inside the polls will be provided by Iraqi troops.
By late Friday, U.S. military officials said insurgents attacked several of the polling stations with weapons ranging from mortars to sniper fire to rocket-propelled grenades. Insurgent snipers wounded one U.S. soldier and an Iraqi Special Police commando Friday at different polling stations, officials said.
Roadside bombs were detonated near several joint patrols in the city, but no casualties were reported.
U.S. and Iraqi soldiers began constructing the actual voting mechanisms Friday, setting up ballot boxes, registration tables and metal detectors to screen voters. Members of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, who will run the vote, were on their way to the polling stations under U.S. guard, officials said.
At the same time, patrols spread through the neighborhoods near polling stations, hoping to disrupt insurgent attacks before they could be launched. A joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in downtown Ramadi — where gunfights and bombings are a near-daily occurrence — turned up at least one cache of weapons and explosives Friday.
Soldiers from Company D, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment found the weapons in a vegetable stand.
Soldiers in Ramadi say the biggest threat on election day could come from suicide bombers. Soldiers say they have received intelligence reports indicating as many as two-dozen female suicide bombers from Syria have been deployed in Ramadi, ready to strike election sites.
U.S. soldiers have been ordered to carry gas masks throughout the election for fear that a chemical agent — anything from tear gas to a nerve agent — could be used by insurgents to scare off a potential crowd of voters.
Will anyone vote?
In the area near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, few would be surprised if no one cast a ballot.
On Friday, 40 sheiks gathered here, home to 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Squadron, 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed “Quarterhorse Cav.”
The sheiks visited Forward Operating Base Wilson in nearby Ad Dwar to learn the mechanics of the election from an Iraqi voting official.
While the turnout likely will be relatively small and attacks an almost certainty, participation may be surprising, at least in certain areas, say soldiers and officers here.
“The good people will vote,” said Spc. Jacob Garrison, 22, a Quarterhorse scout. On daily foot patrols, he said he meets lots of good people, even in the heart of the heart of the Sunni Iron Triangle.
Many of the ordinary people in Ad Dwar like the Americans, “the ones who aren’t shooting at us,” he said.
But a significant number of insurgents operate in the area, and during the past few days, three of 16 voting sites have been attacked, said Capt. Paul Krattiger, 31, Troop C commander.
All the electoral commission officials quit, so Army officials turned to the sheiks and local volunteers were recruited at the last minute to oversee voting.
If it fails, “it won’t be for a lack of effort. Not because soldiers weren’t trying to make [the vote] happen,” Krattiger said.
Security will make a difference early Sunday, Krattiger said. If Iraqis hang back to see how the day is developing, “and Al-Jazeera isn’t reporting a lot of violence,” more may venture out, he said.
In their area of responsibility, the Iraqi Army may make a huge difference, Garrison said. Though 1st ID officials have given up on local police, Iraqi soldiers assigned to Wilson have improved drastically, he said.
People here lived well under Saddam, Krattiger said. “Some are realizing to live well again, they’re going to have to vote.”
“We’ve done everything we can to secure the vote,” Garrison said. Now, soldiers will see if their desires and the dreams of the Iraqi people will intersect, Garrison said: “I want to go home, and they want a home.”