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Soldiers help pave way to new Iraq's constitution

By Staff Sgt. Rebekah-mae Bruns

BAGHDAD Iraq (Army News Service Jan. 25, 2005) - The elections in Iraq are only days away and despite recent bombings and insurgent threats, the city streets of Baghdad continue to bustle with activity. Sirens sound in the distance; horns honk as cars try to push their way through the morning traffic, and Iraqi men and boys of all ages stand on the streets selling their newspapers of the most recently published events.

In a bustling city of nearly 8 million inhabitants, car bombings and threats are not the only signs of an upcoming election in what has become one of the most closely watched countries in the world.

Not far from the usual newspaper peddlers, individuals distribute posters and pamphlets for various political parties, all vying for a space in the new Iraqi government.

The surrounding walls of buildings and concrete barriers are littered with posters and political messages, much the same as any election in the U.S. On one wall, a poster shows Iraq's top religious Shiite cleric, Ali Al Sistani, next to a checked voter's box with the message, 'It is the international duty for each Iraqi to vote.'

On another poster sponsored by the Christian Democratic Party, known as Rafadian - roughly translated as the Land Between Two Rivers - the message reads, 'For a safe and free Iraq and one country, vote for Unidm Kna. Vote!'

"The parties are campaigning now to put their candidates in place to establish a new Iraqi constitution," said Capt. Khris Scarcliff, 32, of Kankakee, Ill.

Iraqi voting for a new constitution and council members

When voters go to the polls on Jan. 30, they will vote for two things; a national assembly to write the new Iraqi constitution, and council members to represent each of the 18 provinces in Iraq.

"This [election] is to vote for members of a parliament who will write the constitution," said Scarcliff, a civil affairs officer with the 1st Calvary Division's, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

In addition to writing a constitution, the 275-member assembly will select a president and two deputy presidents much like the American Electoral College. They will also confirm the president's choice of prime minister through a simple majority vote of confidence.

Currently there are over 200 registered political parties, of which 111 met set requirements and garnished enough community support to make it on the ballot. In order for political parties to establish themselves on the ballot, officials required every third candidate of the named party be female. This was done to help give voice to a gender often left out of government in the Muslim world.

"The goal is to have 25 percent of the National Assembly be female," said Staff Sgt. Jacques Dextradeur, who works with the 1st Calvary Division's Government Support Team.

Dextradeur admits there is no guarantee this will happen, but the measures are set to give Iraqi women a door into government and the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

Kurds in northern Iraq to elect own National Assembly

In the upcoming elections, Iraqi officials are breaking new ground by treating the northern part of Iraq, predominately inhabited by Kurds, as an autonomous region. It is seen as part of the country, but considered self-governing and therefore will elect its own National Assembly to write a constitution separate from the rest of Iraq.

The compromise is a great one, considering the Kurds have been in conflict with their neighbors and longed for land of their own for over two centuries, said Dextradeur. Still, no one knows how long this seemingly beautiful and long awaited concession will last.

"When [Iraq] writes their new constitution they'll decide whether or not they like this," said Dextraduer. "We don't know what they'll decide."

It would appear the only dispute between the Kurds and the current Iraqi government is the northern city of Kirkurk. Nearly 25 percent of Iraq's oil comes from this area making it an extremely valuable asset to both communities.

It has been made clear by both the Iraqi and the American governments that the Iraqis are the ones holding the historical landmark elections. It will be the first free and open elections for the country since 1944.

Iraqi forces to help maintain security at polling sites

The plan in place calls for the Iraqi police force and the Iraqi Army to help to maintain security at polling sites, but if needed, the American military will execute support, if specifically requested by the Iraqi Government.

"[Soldiers] will be providing election security for a safe and sound environment for their area," Scarcliff said.

Officials want to ensure locals are able to vote despite terrorist threats. Over the last couple of weeks, Soldiers have also helped to assess what security measures might be needed at polling sites. The actual sites however, are a closely guarded secret.

1st Lt. Jason DeSoto, 27, of Fayetteville, Ark., works with the Arkansas National Guard's 1st Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. In their sector of Baghdad, which borders the heavily fortified International Zone, home to the interim Iraqi government, there are 22 polling sites. But locals have yet to be told where these sites are.

"It's confusing sometimes for the Iraqi people because they don't have all the information they need right now," said DeSoto. "But it denies insurgents the ability to come up with or mount a plan to attack that site."

The Iraqi government plans to announce the locations of the polling sites only a day or two before elections. By giving a late announcement, officials are hoping to head off specific attacks on sites against Iraqi voters.

DeSoto said the number one concern the Soldiers have heard from Iraqis is the security of the polling sites.

(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Rebekah-mae Bruns is assigned to the 39th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.)

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