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Iraq Election Sees Relative Calm Enabling High Turnout Over Day

Washington (UPI) Dec 18, 2005
Parliamentary elections in Iraq ended with no major violence and expected record-high turn out across the country, according to U.S. military officials there.

Voters turned out in larger than expected numbers in mostly Sunni Anbar province, according to the 2nd Marine Division. Anbar is the most violent region in Iraq and has been the focus of back-to-back offensive operations by U.S. and Iraqi government forces for the last three months.

In Anbar's provincial capital Ramadi, tens of thousands of voters lined the streets Thursday waiting to get into the polls. Only several thousand citizens took part in the October referendum, according to the Marines.

Fewer than two percent of Anbar residents voted in the January election, according to U.S. officials. Most of those voters were in Fallujah. In October, some 90 percent of Fallujah's registered voters cast ballots, and turn out for the national election was similarly high, according to the Marines.

One Iraqi was killed by a homemade bomb hidden in a garbage can in Ramadi, according to local news reports.

In Karmah, a town just outside Fallujah, a polling site that was bombed by insurgents Wednesday was repaired and open for business for voting Thursday, according to the Marines. There were no casualties reported in the incident.

"While we still have a long way to go, we have made remarkable strides since last January's elections, and now have the potential to establish a real measure of order and security in the Province," said Brig. Gen. James L. Williams, assistant commander for the 2nd Marine Division.

In Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province - another of the most violent four of Iraq's 18 provinces -- there was strong turnout and minimal violence, according to a senior Army official there.

"We had no attacks on polling sites in my area, and we had only one or two (bomb attacks) in the 48-hours leading up to and including today. The rest of the (province) was equally as quiet, with much fewer attacks than even October," said the official via e-mail.

Ballots are already being moved to a central facility.

"There are a couple of rumors of ballot tampering, but nothing substantial and nothing solid," the officer said.

In western Ninevah province, voter turn out was at about 80 percent, according to an Army commander in the region. Around 76,000 turned out to vote in Tall 'Afar, which in September was the site of a major anti-insurgent offensive. Around 224,000 voted across the western region.

"We had a few mortars during the day that didn't affect the voting but sadly killed two and wounded five," the commander told UPI. "They were un-aimed shots and really desperate and malicious. The rest of our (area of operations) was completely peaceful. I flew over about 30 sites in the west and visited polling sites in Tall 'Afar. All were Iraqi secured and administered."

Active service military officers who are not assigned to public affairs work require special permission to speak to reporters and therefore generally demand anonymity.

In Baqubah, the police and Iraqi army were in the lead for security and received high marks from the Americans training them.

"The police and the (Iraqi army) really did well. We pretty much stayed in the background as planned," the senior official said.

"As with any massive logistical undertaking, we had some small hiccups - some polling sites had too few ballots, others had too many; some Iraqi election workers got lost or waylaid before showing up at the polls; a couple of ballot convoys got hit, while most made it fine; some places didn't have electricity; and so on. But overall, I think the day went very well," said another army officer in Baqubah.

The results of the elections are not expected to be known until January, although the Iraqi constitution says the 275-member Council of Representatives is supposed to be seated by Dec. 31. That council will appoint a presidential commission which will in turn appoint a prime minister.

Unlike in previous ballots, this election saw polling for both provincial representatives and national seats in the Council, engorging the ballots to contain 7,655 candidates on 996 different candidate lists, 307 political entities (single candidates or political parties) and 19 political coalitions, according to Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

There are five key parties, according to Cordesman: the Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni group led by Adnan al-Dulaymi and Tariq al-Hashimi; the Iraqi National List, a Shiite-Sunni coalition led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi; the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite group led by Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim; the Kurdistan Coalition List led by Masood Barzani; and the National Congress Coalition, a Shi'ite-Sunni group led by Ahmad Chalabi.

In a paper published Thursday, Cordesman cautioned against interpreting a strong Sunni turnout as an end to the Sunni-led insurgency.

Insurgents may have voted in strong numbers to counter Kurdish and Shi'ite votes. Sunnis who voted may not be willing to accept the elected government if it is heavily Shi'itie or Kurdish.

Finally, high voter turn-out does not translate to an acceptance of the American and coalition forces that ushered in the vote. A recent poll by ABC News showed some 80 percent of Iraq wants U.S. forces to withdraw.

Source: United Press International

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The Art Of Leaving Iraq
Washington (UPI) Dec 18, 2005
The main question about the war in Iraq was never whether it would go well or go badly. The question was whether it would go bad fast or go bad slowly. So far, it has gone bad slowly, which was always the greater probability. But the possibility remains that it could go bad fast. The greatest likelihood may be during that most delicate of military arts, the withdrawal.

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