By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 29, 2009 - Iraqis of all backgrounds are preparing to vote during their country's first election since 2005, a senior Defense Department official said here today. More than 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the Jan. 31 provincial elections, which will select representatives for 440 council seats across the country's 18 provinces, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told Pentagon reporters.
The more than 14,000 candidates "have for the most part, run on issues that matter to the Iraqi people, rather than trying to exploit ethnic or sectarian divisions," Morrell said.
There has been some pre-election violence, but relatively few instances of voter intimidation, Morrell said.
Sunnis had boycotted the 2005 Iraqi elections, but indications are they will participate in this year's provincial-seat polling, Morrell said. This development, he said, should produce a more representative Iraqi government, particularly in traditionally Sunni areas.
U.S. and coalition troops will support Iraqi security forces during the election, Morrell said.
Morrell also noted that Afghan government officials have announced their country's next national elections will be held in August, just before the Ramadan observance period. Reports also indicate, he added, that voter registrations in Afghanistan continue to progress well.
"So, we are pleased that the relatively new democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to mature rapidly," Morrell said.