By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 7, 2010 - The Iraqi election process shows how far the country has come, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. Gates received reports on the Iraqi election from Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in the country.
Odierno had expected a high number of high-profile attacks as al-Qaida attempted to disrupt the elections and keep Iraqis from the polls. "But the efforts of the Iraqi security forces are such that al-Qaida in Iraq was forced to change their tactics," Gates told reporters traveling with him.
"There were a number of explosions in Baghdad in the early morning hours, but they figure that 80 percent were these bottled noise bombs that did little damage, but were designed to affect the perception of the security environment," the secretary said.
Contrary to media reports there were no mortar attacks in the capital. In the southern part of the country there were no security incidents at all, Odierno told Gates. "His view is the Iraq security forces have performed superbly and the turn-out is as high, if not higher, than earlier expectations," Gates said.
The contrast between the elections in 2005 and those held today "is just staggering," he said. The levels of violence in Iraq have dropped precipitously. "I don't think we could have written a script from the vantage point of March 2007 to be where we are today with the low level of violence," he said.
Gates said he was impressed by the campaigning that went on before the vote. Candidates could put their ideas forward in a peaceful environment.
"All-in-all a good day for the Iraqis and all of us," Gates said.