U.S. forces design security for election in Sunni Triangle
TIKRIT, Iraq — U.S. forces are working closely with election officials to plan security details for next Saturday’s constitutional referendum at new polling sites in the heart of Iraq’s Sunni Triangle.
The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq sanctioned about 40 more polling sites in Salah ad Din province, U.S. Army officials learned this week. The figure includes added substations on the outskirts of Samarra, a town deeply contested between coalition and anti-Iraq forces.
Salah ad Din now plans to open 249 polling sites and 1,204 voting booths for the constitutional referendum.
“The Iraqis have already had a [security] plan in place for the past week or two,” said Maj. Christopher DiCicco, 37, of Pittsfield, Mass.
U.S. soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga., help the Iraqis tweak the plan when issues such as new polling sites arise. They meet regularly with top Iraqi police, army and elections officials to help plan security operations throughout the province.
The Iraqi army will transfer the ballots to most polling sites, where the Iraqi police will control security. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq will have authority inside the polling areas.
During the election, the Iraqi army will form an outer cordon near polling sites and be available should Iraqi police need help.
“If we see that the police cannot control a situation, then we will interfere,” said Iraqi staff Col. Salem Mohammed. “We’ll also be controlling all exits from Samarra, and a curfew will be in effect in the province to limit traffic.”
Coalition troops will be on alert farther away and be called upon should the Iraqi army need combat support or medical evacuations.
Iraqi officials have asked U.S. servicemembers to stay away from the polls on the day of the vote to avoid the appearance of interference in the referendum.
More than 500 international observers will be at the polls in Iraq to monitor fraud, according to the Iraqi electoral commission.
Voters will be checked against a paper registry at each precinct, said Haydar Ismael Ibrahim, electoral commission operations manager. Voters must sign their names in red ink. After voting, they dip their thumb in indelible ink.
“The ink is not removable for eight hours,” Ibrahim said. “We can be sure that the voter cannot vote twice.”
With a mostly Shiite and Kurdish government currently holding power in Baghdad, Sunni voter turnout is key for the constitution to be considered representative of Iraq’s people, U.S. officials have said.
The constitution remains unpopular in this predominately Sunni province, but most officials expect a far greater turnout than the largely Sunni-boycotted January elections.