By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 28, 2009 - 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.
Iraqi soldiers, policemen and other security forces voted today, a few days ahead of the rest of the population. On Jan. 31, election day, they will stand guard to ensure their fellow citizens can vote without fear.
"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," Iraqi army 1st Lt. Ammar Abdul Zahramuvjiaa, a troop commander within the 10th Iraqi Army Division, said.
"I was here in 2005 when the first elections were held," Army Maj. Troy Wayman, an Iraqi security forces coordinator with the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, said. "Everyone in the [Iraqi security forces] 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 Iraqi security forces have been preparing for several months for the upcoming election, with coalition soldiers pitching in during 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, Army Maj. Ryan Foxworth, operations advisor for the 10th Iraqi Army Division, said. "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 Iraqi army and police and representatives from provincial reconstruction teams on election security plans. He said this election was one of the first operations he's seen the Iraqi army and police come together to serve the population. Foxworth said the Iraqi security forces 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," Foxworth said.
Unlike the last election, Iraqi security forces have been in the lead for every aspect of security. The various security roles also have been delegated with better insight this year, officials said. For example, soldiers often were 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.
Foxworth said he has seen a great relationship and trust grow between the Iraqi people and their army. Earlier this month, he said, he saw the two come together in celebration during Iraqi Day. The festivities took place at the Samawah Soccer Stadium in Iraq's Muthana province to honor the 88th birthday of the Iraqi army.
"The people were very receptive," Foxworth said. "I think the people in [Qadasiyah] province think the [Iraqi security forces] can secure them."
The security forces have put a considerable amount of time in planning over 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 work groups are where coalition forces will have been the most involved.
"[My soldiers] are so optimistic," Iraqi Chief Warrant Officer Jamal Ibraheem, deputy for the staff major general, said. "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.
"We look forward to the day when we need not their help, but only their friendship," he said.
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves in Multinational Division Center.)