ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign
The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005
Setting the Stage
Overview of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: May 2003 to January 2005
Toward the New Iraq: December 2004–January 2005
With the Sunni Arab insurgent challenge in Samarra and Fallujah checked, the Coalition and the IIG prepared for elections they hoped would bring the nation together. The Bush administration viewed the emergence of a democratically elected government in Iraq as crucial to American security and the reshaping of the Middle East. Coalition leaders also hoped that a freely elected Iraqi Government would undercut some of the claims of the many insurgent groups operating in Iraq and reduce the level of violence. However, mounting free and fair elections in a country that had no democratic traditions in the midst of an insurgency presented unique challenges. If the Coalition and the IIG were to hold successful elections for the TNA according to the agreed-on schedule, security was of paramount importance and the ISF would need to play a large role.
To organize for the elections, the IIG created a nine-member commission to oversee the process. Thousands of Iraqi volunteers supported the commission by serving as election commissioners. The men and women volunteers successfully registered over 14 million Iraqi voters in the months leading up to the elections. To provide security for voters and for polling places, Coalition forces went to great lengths to keep a low profile, hoping to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Iraqi military and police forces provided security in the days prior to the elections, with American Soldiers remaining in the background, ready to react against insurgent plans to disrupt the voting.
In the days and weeks leading up to the elections, Coalition forces and their Iraqi partners were very busy—and very effective. The sheer scale of the task was such that even under peaceful conditions, Iraqi and Coalition organizers would have faced a major challenge in mounting the elections. Nevertheless, on election day, 30 January 2005, millions of Iraqis voted at approximately 6,000 voting centers all across the country. They chose from among 19,000 candidates, representing a wide variety of political parties, for the 275 seats in the TNA.31 The voter turnout was approximately 60 percent of eligible voters, although the large majority of Sunni Arabs boycotted the elections.32 Still, this was an astonishing percentage considering the very real dangers facing the voters. Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, MNC-I commander in January 2005, remembered that day with great clarity: “My command sergeant major was at a polling site when a mortar round came in. It killed two people and wounded four. The people got out of the polling line and did the right thing by the deceased, helped the wounded, but they got back in line.”33 The courage that many Iraqis displayed in expressing their political right to vote amazed Metz. He stated that the image of the Iraqi voters defying the insurgent attacks remained with him: “I always challenge every American audience, ‘Would the people in your hometown get back in line?’”34
The elections were a success despite scattered insurgent attacks that took the lives of 26 Iraqi civilians, 8 members of the ISF, and 11 Coalition Soldiers. Iraqi forces performed quite well during this first, nation-wide test of their abilities. They played a large role in not only getting out the vote, but also ensuring that not a single polling place was destroyed. Days after the elections, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, commander of MNSTC-I, attributed a large part of the electoral success to the Iraqis and their security forces:
The bottom line . . . is that considerable momentum has been achieved in the effort to help Iraq develop its security forces. We saw this most vividly on [30 January 2005]. Democracy was on the march in Iraq on January 30th, and that march was secured by Iraqi soldiers and police. Certainly the backup by Coalition forces was of enormous importance. However, it was Iraqi security forces that prevented terrorists from penetrating the security around any of the more than 5,000 polling sites, and it was Iraqi police and soldiers who gave their lives to prevent several suicide vest bombers from blowing up large numbers of those standing in line to vote.35
The elections of January 2005 were an important milestone in the history of OIF, and they mark the endpoint of this study. The elections inspired millions of Iraqis and helped move Iraq closer toward the US goal of creating a stable and prosperous country, led by a representative government able to prevent its territory from being used as a base for terrorism and regional aggression. Few in MNF-I headquarters or the military units under its command expected the elections to fully transform Iraq or to put an immediate end to the terrorism, insurgency, and increasing sectarian violence plaguing the nation. Still, as the polling stations closed on 30 January 2005, American Soldiers could acknowledge that they had made significant strides toward their objective during the first 18 months of the US Army’s tenure in Iraq.
A Decisive Month—May 2003
Military Transitions in Spring 2003
An Uncertain Summer: June–September 2003
Peaks and Valleys: October 2003–March 2004
The Caldron Boils Over: April–June 2004
Transitions of Command and Sovereignty: June–July 2004
The Sunni Arab Challenge: August–November 2004
Toward the New Iraq: December 2004–January 2005
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|