Editor’s Note: The following correspondence was sent to Dr. Paul Kengor–the executive director of the CVV–by Lt George Kipp, Baqubah, Iraq.
Sir, this was an article I wrote for an Iraqi paper a few days after the election. I thought you might enjoy reading it. We helped fund a newspaper in the town of Khan Ban’ Sa’ad, and every now and then, we submit articles to them. They are not required to print them, but we offer it to them.
The Referendum vote that took place in Iraq on the 15th of October was a remarkable event. It was historic, and it was a free election held in a country once controlled by a tyrannical dictator; but more noteworthy than that was the sheer number of Iraqis that made their way to the ballots despite the multitude of hazards of doing so. Not only is this an example of the resolve of the individual Iraqi to secure a peaceful future, it was a testament of the effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces in protecting its people. Many of the news media outlets did not present to the world how much hard work the Iraqis put into the election and also how much the Iraqi people had to go through just to get to the polls.
Coalition Forces in Iraq had worked collectively with the Iraqi Army (IA), Iraqi Police (IP), and the International Election Committee of Iraq (IECI) for months before the election to coordinate everything from the protection of polling sites, to the movement of ballots. Although US forces were not seen near any election sight on the day of the vote, they were prepared for any problems that might arise. It was the responsibility of the Iraqi Police and Army to protect the sites on the 15th. To better prepare for the election Coalition Forces along with the IECI, IA and IP conducted nationwide referendum rehearsals weeks before the vote ever took place. These rehearsals were exact representations of the actions to take place on the days prior to the voting and following the voting. Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces conducted mass casualty drills in almost every major city in Iraq. Iraqi and US forces moved hundreds of thousands of concrete barriers to fortify polling sites. There was a plan of action for every imaginable event for every polling site in Iraq. The preparation and planning never stops; just days after the referendum, Security Forces already began planning for the elections to take place in mid-December.
In preparation for the referendum and the estimated escalation in violence and attacks, IA and Coalition Forces conducted large scale sweeping operations to detain many-suspected Anti Iraqi Forces (AIF) throughout the Iraqi provinces. Interestingly enough, it was the detainees who voted first. To shield themselves from accusations of arresting only those that would vote against the constitution, the Iraqi Army allowed detained individuals to vote on the 14th of October, by bringing the ballots to them.
In an effort to protect polling sites from vehicle born improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the 15th, a nationwide vehicle ban was emplaced. Although originally reported to the Iraqi people to be in effect the night prior to the election, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (IMD) changed the beginning of the ban to the night of the 13th. For the large number of Iraqi citizens that lived in rural areas–where polling sites were more than 10 to 20 kilometers away–and who had planned to drive to relatives homes the day prior to the election, they now could not. They would have to walk in temperatures over 100 degrees for great distances. In addition, because the election took place during Ramadan, they had to do this without food or water. Even the Iraqi Security Forces went without food and water.
Iraqi officials estimate the population of Iraq to be slightly over 26 million people. On October 15th the IECI estimated that roughly 15.5 million Iraqis voted. That is 58 percent of the total population of Iraq voting. This puts even the United States of America to shame. The last Census numbers put the population of the USA at around 295 million people. In the last presidential election only 121 million Americans voted. That’s only 40 percent of the population of the United States. In the United States, voters don’t have to contend with the threat of IEDs, VBIED, suicide bombers, curfews and vehicle bands, and yet a higher percentage of Iraqis managed to vote.
It is a unique experience to be present at the birth of a new country, to see the faces of people who are excited to vote for the first time. Most Iraqis admit that Iraq is a dangerous country, but many are determined, no mater how long it takes, to make it a better place for their children. IEDs and death fill the evening news because that is what the media feels is exciting and eye catching. It is sad that the media does not show how exciting it can be to watch an 80-year-old man walk 10 km without water and vote for the first time in his life. That is worth reporting, that is what the Coalition is doing in Iraq; it is giving the Iraqi people the right to not live in fear anymore, the chance to express their own thoughts and determine their own future.
George H. Kipp