U.S. troops fortify Iraqi polling stations
January 28, 2005
RAMADI, Iraq — American combat engineers and infantrymen occupied dozens of polling stations throughout Iraq early Thursday morning so they could fortify them with concrete barriers, search for bombs and prepare them for possible insurgent attacks in the run up to Sunday’s elections.
In Ramadi, where insurgents and American troops have clashed on a near daily basis, members of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment and the 44th Engineers Battalion — both of which deployed with 2nd Infantry Division units from South Korea to Iraq last fall — took several locations throughout the city.
Working under cover of darkness, huge tracked-recovery vehicles moved concrete barriers into blocking positions, while engineers and soldiers laid out several layers of concertina wire.
“We are going to harden the outer perimeters and provide a secure place for the residents of Ramadi to vote,” said 1-503 commander Lt. Col. Justin Gubler, earlier in the day.
At one polling station, a relatively new train station in Ramadi, soldiers arrived around 1 a.m. to begin transforming the largely-abandoned facility into a protected area.
Squads of soldiers swept the buildings for bombs and weapons while other teams set up security measures outside. By around 5 a.m., most of the work was done, and some of the soldiers grabbed a few hours of sleep.
“We got done a little earlier than we thought, so the guys will be able to get a little rest,” said Capt. Marco Ferrara of Company D, which will guard the polling station until election day.
By morning, members of an Iraqi Special Police Commando had joined the unit. Under agreements with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, only local forces will be inside the actual polling stations during the election.
All told, more than 100,00 Iraqi soldiers and 150,000 U.S. troops will help provide security throughout the country on election day. In other Iraqi cities, insurgents have attacked or destroyed polling stations.
Ramadi was no exception.
By morning, insurgents had located the troops. U.S. and Iraqi officials did not plan to announce the locations of polling places until around 48 hours before the vote. But as day broke Thursday and the soldiers finished up with the security measures, the crisp snap of a few incoming bullets whizzed overhead. In the distance, gunfire and explosions could briefly be heard coming from other quarters of the city.
By mid-afternoon, the soldiers at the polling station were receiving mortar and rocket-propelled grenade fire. They fired back with machine guns and grenade rounds of their own.
U.S. and Iraqi patrols, using the polling stations as new temporary staging locations, then went into Ramadi to conduct patrols.