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First Lt. Robert Peterson confers with Iraqi police and voting officials at a polling place in Muqdadiyah. Peterson was checking on final security precautions Friday.
First Lt. Robert Peterson confers with Iraqi police and voting officials at a polling place in Muqdadiyah. Peterson was checking on final security precautions Friday. (Andrew Tilghman / S&S)

MUQDADIYAH, Iraq — Driving through the center of this dusty town in eastern Iraq, 1st Lt. Robert Peterson was the last U.S. soldier to visit several polling sites here before U.S. troops stepped back to allow locals to run their own elections.

“Where are you going to inspect people before they come in?” Peterson asked one Iraqi election official at a school serving as a polling place.

When the Iraqis said they planned to search voters before they entered the front door, Peterson said, through his translator: “Tell him that is too close. You don’t want them to get too close to inspect them in case they have a bomb.”

Peterson was one of many U.S. soldiers across the region offering last-minute security advice and supplies to Iraqi police and poll workers.

Iraqi police charged with defending the 63 polling sites in the Muqdadiyah area repelled attacks on at least four voting sites Thursday night, officials said. At most polling sites, Iraqi police had erected roadblocks surrounding the sites.

Police at most election sites had hand-held metal detectors to help search voters, but officers at least one location said they did not have any. Police in some locations wore flak vests and carried automatic rifles, while those at other sites wore sandals and carried a single pistol.

Police often requested more ammunition, telling U.S. soldiers they had little more than a single magazine to fend off an attack.

At several polling sites, Peterson gave police and election workers a roll of razor wire to help them set up barricades and funnel voters toward the inspection sites. Peterson expressed disappointment that some Iraqi police and election workers were depending too much on American support.

“It’s like they are waiting for me to come down and baby-sit them,” he said after leaving one site where the roadblocks and barricades appeared insufficient. “They should be more proactive about it by going to their own supervisors and making these requests.”

At another site, he was pleased to find secure roadblocks at a safe distance in place.

“See, they did this one right. This is very good,” Peterson said.

At the close of each visit, Peterson told his translator to wish the Iraqis a happy holiday.

“Tell them I hope they have a safe election. And tell them I hope they have a happy Ramadan.”

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