Iraq looks cautiously ahead after quiet election day
MUSHADA, Iraq — The morning after this area’s first free election in decades, optimism rolled back and the tide of frustration, suspicion and fear — in other words, life as usual — returned to this heavily Sunni region of Iraq.
While Army officials and civilians alike breathed a collective sigh of relief over the lack of major attacks on Saturday, all predicted Sunday that the area’s security problems won’t take a permanent vacation.
Leaders of the Fort Riley, Kan.-based 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Division, which patrols the area, said they expect another upswing in activity in upcoming days. No major incidents were reported as of Sunday afternoon.
“The violence will not cease,” said Company A commander Capt. Gregory Spencer. “This thing’s going to take a long, long time, for Iraqis to be forward-thinking, to realize what the future could be.”
Yet, Iraqis and Americans alike said they believed Saturday’s Iraqi-run election was at least a small step in a positive direction.
“Clearly, peace will not break out across Iraq and nobody thinks so,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Eric Wesley. “It’s going to take a long time, but days like [Saturday] push us closer to that day.”
“It’s a very good step for us,” said Abed Al Karim, 46, a resident of a small village near Camp Taji, where the 1-13 Armor is stationed. “At least something is happening in this country. We had the chance to say yes or no.”
Karim, like many in this region, said ‘no.’ Like many Sunnis, he was deeply distrustful of the motives of what he described as a Shiite-authored document.
“If we have a good constitution, a good government, everything will be changed,” he said.
Most locals were not so optimistic.
Many expressed deep suspicion in the electoral process, in the election committee, in the proposed constitution, in the Iraqi government, in American forces, in the nascent Iraqi forces and — most disparagingly — in fellow Iraqis.
Mushada resident Hamid Ibrahim, 40, said he voted against the constitution draft. If it passes nationally, he said, “we are going to refuse our government. There will be no connection between us and our government.”
Many also said they held out little hope for positive progress from the attempt to bring democracy to Iraq.
“Nothing has changed,” said shopowner Amer Hussain, 28, a Mushada resident, who also voted against the constitutional proposition. “It has gotten worse.”
Hussain referred to his own experience: He said he received a university degree in economics, yet could only find employment by setting up a ramshackle roadside store along an explosive-laced thoroughfare. He complained about the rash of bombings on the road — 1-13 Armor officials say they find about 40 bombs each month in the area — as they cut into his business.
“If the Americans and the government want all the people of Iraq to love them,” he said, “they have to give us something to prove they’re doing something good for us.”
In response, battalion officials at the scene noted the efforts they took to foster a peaceful atmosphere on election day, by patrolling the area and advising Iraqi officials on security issues.
“I can’t be your friend when you carry this weapon,” said Khalifa Moharb, 19, gesturing toward the M4 rifle carried by Capt. Gregory Spencer.
“If it weren’t for this weapon,” Spencer replied, “you couldn’t have voted yesterday.”