Capt. Rich Connaroe, one of the original Team Jedi members, is currrently on leave back home in Virginia. He recently wrote this article about the changes that have occurred in Iraq since the first free elections were held four years ago. It’s something of a revelation about the strides the Iraqis have made, but also underscores how effective and important a job U.S. Military Transition Teams, such as Team Jedi, have done of teaching Iraqi soldiers how to protect their fellow citizens.
The Real Story Behind Iraqi Election Day, 31 JAN 2009
Just over four years ago, the Iraqi people voted in their first free and fair democratic elections. But those elections came at a cost. Large religious sects, certain voting districts, and in one case an entire province, boycotted the election.
Sectarian violence ensued, resulting in 44 civilian deaths on Election Day, January 30, 2005, and countless more in the months and years to follow.
The media largely covered the more eye-catching scenes. Front-page headlines and images portrayed the historic election, the deadly attacks, and the purple dye on the fingertips of Iraqi voters that identified a voter and prevented them from voting more than once.
News coverage, however, took for granted the role of the U.S. military. The security measures at the polls largely went uncovered. American soldiers and Marines not only planned and provided Election Day security, they escorted ballot boxes and 8.5 million ballots to a central location for counting. In accomplishing their mission of establishing and continuing security in Iraq, 107 soldiers, Marines and airmen were killed in action in January 2005 -- the fifth bloodiest month of the war.
Last week, news coverage again focused on Election Day in Iraq. Familiar pictures featured index fingertips stained with red dye. Absent, however, were the stories of violence.
While over 300 attacks occurred on Election Day 2005, only 11 occurred this year. There were no American casualties from hostile action on January 31, 2009. No outbreak of sectarian violence. Instead, the story was voter turnout, which declined from 55 percent in 2005 to 51 percent this year.
Pundits speculated that the decline stemmed from disillusionment with local government. Meanwhile, few applauded the most obvious sign of the country’s democratic progress: Not one religious sect or district boycotted the elections. Not only that, but the success story behind election security was unreported.
The most telling aspect of Election Day is the U.S. military’s level of involvement. A month before the elections, the military began planning security operations. A week later, the Iraqi Army made it clear that U.S. involvement was unnecessary. They even banned U.S. soldiers from polling places on Election Day.
Iraqi voters drove to the polls, many of which were in schools. Iraqi soldiers stopped vehicles a few hundred meters from the site and searched the vehicles and the occupants. From there, voters walked through a maze of concertina wire and cement barriers, while armed soldiers watched from rooftops.
As the voters approached the building, men were searched and women led to a tent for military-trained female searchers. Finally, the voters entered the polling place after passing through metal detectors. U.S. military personnel were nowhere in sight.
Ultimately, 7.5 million Iraqis caste their vote on Election Day, and the Iraqi Army escorted the ballot boxes to a central location. The Iraqi Army solely planned and executed all aspects of the election security operations.
That was just one of the signs that the need for a U.S. presence in Iraq has visibly diminished. This is the real and largely unreported story behind this Election Day in Iraq.
Captain, U.S. Army
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