By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Multi-National Division - Center
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – During the 2005 provincial Iraqi elections, voters had their fingers stained with election ink to prevent them from voting twice.
Some held their fingers up in pride as they took part in democracy; others hid their faces from cameras, afraid of becoming victims of sectarian violence.
This year, ink or not, Iraqi security forces will make their vote count twice -- once through their own ballots, then again through the people they serve.
"We have a high commitment to provide security to people that come to vote. At the same time, we also wish to do the same thing," said 1st Lt. Ammar Abdul Zahramuvjia'a, a troop commander within the 10th Iraqi Army Division.
IA soldiers, Iraqi policemen and other security forces will vote a few days ahead of the rest of the population. On election day, they will stand guard to ensure those with stained fingers can vote without fear.
"I was here in 2005 when the first elections were held," said Maj. Troy Wayman, of Ainsworth, Neb., an ISF coordinator with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "Everyone in the ISF was proud of their right to vote and expressed it by showing their painted finger to us over and over. Everyone was jubilant. This year, that same enthusiasm is prevalent."
The ISF have been preparing for several months now for the upcoming election. Coalition soldiers have been working with them in the planning stages. Once the big day comes, however, Iraqi police will stand watch around polling sites, while Iraqi soldiers will serve on the outskirts of the cities, at the forefront of security. Coalition members will stand aside.
"We have no hand whatsoever in the elections, said Maj. Ryan Foxworth, the operations advisor for the 10th IA Div., and member of the 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div. "As enablers, we see their plans. We see their needs... We'll be standing by if they need us [but] I don't foresee them needing us at all."
Foxworth has been working with the IA, IP and representatives from Provincial Reconstruction teams on election security plans. He said this election was one of the first operations he's seen IA and IP come together to serve the populace. Foxworth said the ISF are prepared for every possible attack, and they don't lack the confidence to do their job.
"The same security concerns from four years ago are there, but now they feel they're better prepared to use their own resources and security preparations," said Foxworth, of Red Springs, N.C.
Unlike the last election, ISF have been in the lead for every aspect of security. Also, the various security roles were not delegated as well as this year. For example, Soldiers were often doing work meant for police and vice versa. Now the police are becoming more involved among the people. Their security presence will serve at the polling sites, ballot warehouse and counting centers.
Also, Foxworth has seen a great relationship and trust grow between the Iraqi people and their Army. Earlier this January, he saw the two come together in celebration during Iraqi Day. The festivities took place at the Samawah soccer stadium in Muthana province to honor the 88th birthday of the IA. The streets were lined with vehicles. There were no empty seats in the stands, with a lot of cheering and excitement coming from the crowds.
"The people were very receptive," Foxworth said. "I think the people in our province [al-Qadasiyah] think the ISF can secure them."
The people's confidence in their security forces is warranted considering the amount of planning ISF have conducted the last few months. The security working groups have met six times to review election issues and other concerns. Once the election is behind them, these workgroups are where Coalition forces will have been the most involved.
"[My soldiers] are so optimistic. They are ready to elect a new leader that will serve this country. We [as Iraqis] are free to choose the chosen ones of this country. [The Americans] have been very good to us and we accept their help," said Chief Warrant Officer Jamal Ibraheem, Staff Maj. Gen. deputy. "We look forward to the day when we need not their help, but only their friendship."
This work, Iraqi Security Forces: Ensuring vote counts twice, by MSG Michel Sauret, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.