U.S. to have minor role in Iraq vote
January 20, 2009
BAGHDAD — American combat units in Iraq will have a much smaller role to play in this year’s provincial elections than they did when the elections first took place four years ago, according to military leaders.
U.S. forces oversaw all parts of the 2005 elections, from protecting the polling sites to guarding the ballots. This year, though, Iraqi forces are in charge of making sure the elections run smoothly.
Voters will see this for themselves Jan. 31 when they head to the polling sites. Each site in the Rasheed district will be protected by three rings of security, said Col. Ted Martin, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, the American unit for the area.
Iraqi police will man the inner ring, and Iraqi National Police will man the middle ring. American soldiers will be stationed only at the outer ring, and they will share duties with the National Police.
"You’re not going to see Americans at the polling sites," Martin said.
During the 2005 election, American units guarding the ballots got into gunfights with enemy fighters trying to obstruct the process. They won’t have that duty either this year because Iraqi security forces will be responsible for securing the ballots.
"I would probably not even know when they’re driving through my area of operations (with ballots)," Martin said. "I’m very proud that the National Police have really stepped up to the plate."
Col. Joseph Martin, the commander of 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, said he doesn’t expect Election Day to be very different from other days — mostly because his soldiers are already busy securing Iraq and working with Iraqi security forces. American units will be "all over the place assisting with security," but that’s what they do every day.
"The election thing is a very, very important thing, but (security efforts) are continuous where you have to constantly disrupt enemy activities," said Martin, whose area covers the Kadhamiyah, Karkh and Mansour districts. "Every day we leave it all on the field."
In general, American combat units’ duties on Election Day will be limited to manning the outer cordon and providing a quick response unit for any emergencies that arise, said Lt. Col. John Vermeesch, commander of 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, the American battalion in Kadhamiyah.
U.S. forces will have a bigger role in assessing the security of each polling site prior to the election. American soldiers will examine each of the 202 sites in Rasheed for security vulnerabilities and compare their assessments with the National Police’s evaluations, Col. Ted Martin said.
"That’s what we’re knee deep in now," he said.
Vermeesch noted that the assessments in his area are done as part of "combined area reconnaissance" patrols with the Iraqi army in which they often already had to examine other key sites such as checkpoints and Iraqi police stations. Col. Joseph Martin emphasized that all of the American efforts support the Iraqi oversight of the elections.
"Iraqis clearly are in the lead on that," he said. "We are there to assist and support them."