Find a Security Clearance Job!


ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part III

Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq

Chapter 10
A Country United, Stable, and Free: US Army Governance Operations in Iraq


The Interim Iraqi Government and 30 January 2005 Elections

As the Coalition entered 2004, Paul Bremer and other leaders were aware of the need for national elections to help legitimize the new Iraq they had helped bring into existence. To assist with the first step, the Coalition worked with the United Nations to pave the way for the assumption of political sovereignty by the Iraqis and the establishment of an IIG. The UN Security Council issued Resolution 1546 on 8 June 2004 that endorsed the formation of an IIG and set the schedule for elections for a Transitional National Assembly (TNA) to be held in late December 2004 or January 2005.

The UN Resolution played a critical role in the development of MNF-I, which the Coalition had created in May 2004 looking forward to the day when Iraq was sovereign yet would still require Coalition forces to maintain security and safeguard its political progress. In a letter that accompanied the UN resolution, US Secretary of State Colin Powell articulated the overarching purpose of MNF-I, emphasizing the ascending role of the Iraqis in the security of their own country: “Development of an effective and cooperative security partnership between the MNF and the sovereign Government of Iraq is critical to the stability of Iraq. The commander of the MNF will work in partnership with the sovereign Government of Iraq in helping to provide security while recognizing and respecting its sovereignty.”66 That sovereignty came sooner than expected. In a surprise move, Ambassador Bremer and the CPA officially transferred sovereignty to the IIG on 28 June 2004, 2 days before the planned date to avoid potential terrorist disruptions. At a ceremony in Baghdad’s Green Zone, Bremer officially ended the Coalition occupation and gave authority to Ayad Allawi, Iraq’s Interim Prime Minister. He read aloud from a letter he had written that morning, concluding with, “We welcome Iraq’s steps to take its rightful place of equality and honor among the nations of the world.” Two hours later, Bremer left Iraq for good.67

During the summer and fall of 2004, the insurgency in Iraq continued to escalate. US forces and the Iraqi Government became increasingly concerned that insurgent-held areas would not be pacified prior to the January 2005 elections. Those elections had become the most important objective for both the Coalition and the IIG. General Casey unequivocally identified the goals set in UN Resolution 1546 as the most important direction he received when he took command of MNF-I. The campaign plan he and his staff developed in the summer of 2004 focused on preparing Iraq for its first set of national elections.68 For Casey and many others, any disruption to the political timeline would be seen as a major setback for the legitimacy of the IIG and the Coalition project in Iraq. Consequently, MNF-I began a series of offensive actions to rid Iraq of militia and insurgent strongholds. In August US Army and Marine Corps units teamed with Iraqi security forces to force Muqtada al-Sadr and his militiamen out of the city of An Njaf. In early October a force of 3,000 Soldiers from the 1st ID, along with 2,000 Iraqi soldiers, launched Operation BATON ROUGE to eliminate the insurgent safe haven in the city of Samarra. In the assault, 94 insurgents were killed as Coalition and Iraqi forces reasserted control over the city. In early November 2004, in the wake of Operation BATON ROUGE, the Coalition began Operation AL FAJR, a major offensive against the Sunni insurgent stronghold in the city of Fallujah. By the end of the month, US and Iraqi forces had eradicated most of the insurgent opposition in the city. These successful attacks sent a powerful message to both insurgents and Iraqi citizens alike that the interim government would not tolerate interference with the upcoming national elections.

In further anticipation of the January elections, the Coalition took steps to increase combat power in Iraq to help maintain security. The British First Battalion Royal Highland Fusiliers deployed 400 soldiers from their base in Cyprus to southeast Iraq to provide election support.69 In addition, 3,500 US Soldiers from the 2d Brigade, 1st CAV and 3,000 from the 1st ID had their tours extended until after the elections. The extended 1st ID forces were to remain deployed north of Baghdad in the Sunni Arab cities of Samarra, Balad, and Baquba. Shortly thereafter, two battalions from the 82d ABN were sent to Iraq to provide security for the International Zone in Baghdad, and additional troops from 2d BCT, 25th ID, along with 2,300 Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, stayed on in Iraq in preparation for the Iraqi elections. Thus, MNF-I increased the pre-election force in Iraq by nearly 12,000 Soldiers and Marines.70

In the last week of January, when insurgent violence did not abate, officials from the Independent Electoral Commission announced the closing of Iraq’s international borders in an effort to tighten security. Iraq’s government also proclaimed a nationwide nighttime curfew, restricted election day driving to officials only, prevented traveling between provinces, banned weapons, canceled all leave for Iraqi police and military forces, and declared 29–31 January holidays.71

Despite the elaborate security precautions, terrorist threats and insurgent attacks continued. On 23 January, for example, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in an effort to dissuade Iraqi citizens from voting released an Internet recording declaring “a bitter war against democracy and all those who seek to enact it.” He went on to denounce the IIG “as a tool used by the Americans to promote this lie that is called democracy.”72 In that final week before the elections, IED attacks and mortar barrages were met by operations mounted by both Coalition and US forces to detain suspected insurgents and uncover weapons caches. At the same time, US units moved into position to support the ISF on election day. Although Iraqi police and military forces had been assigned primary polling-site security duty, significant numbers of US troops were scheduled to patrol the streets and wait nearby, ready to provide immediate backup whenever necessary.

Before the elections, the Iraqi Electoral Commission published all of the candidates’ names on their official Web site, and on 28 January Iraqi exiles and expatriates began casting their votes from special polling stations established in 14 countries to accommodate Iraqi residents. One Iraqi in a polling booth in Sydney, Australia, told a journalist, “When I look at the ink on my finger, this is a mark of freedom.” Handren Marph, a Kurd voting in London, remarked: “This is a fantastic feeling. I feel hope and fear—fear because freedom might not come back, but hope because a new constitution may give us protection and opportunity for all.”73

On 30 January 2005 the Iraqi people voted in overwhelming numbers despite repeated attempts by insurgents to disrupt the elections. By the end of the day, an estimated 8.4 million citizens had voted, representing a surprising 60 percent turnout. Along with the 275 representatives who were elected from 111 political parties to the TNA, the elections established provincial councils in each of the 18 provinces and elected a Kurdistan regional assembly legislature. Two hundred thousand election workers and organizing officials had worked tirelessly at 5,200 polling places to make this historic day a remarkable success.74 In many instances, Iraqis had to wait in long lines to cast their votes. Most were proud to do so.

In Baghdad, there was great celebration. Nuhair Rubaie, a resident of the city, explained to a reporter, “It’s like a wedding. I swear to God, it’s a wedding for all Iraq. No one has ever witnessed this before, no one has ever seen anything like. And we did it ourselves.”75 Another Iraqi added, “Whatever they do, I would still vote. Even if I were dead, I would still participate. The vote comes from the bottom of my heart.”76 After casting his vote, Prime Minister Allawi addressed the sense of hope that those who had voted were now feeling when he noted, “This is the starting point on the path to democracy, rule of law, prosperity, and security for Iraq and the entire region.”77

In a show of pride, Iraqi citizens continued to display their ink-stained fingers for several days after the election. At the US State of the Union address in Washington, DC, the following week, members of Congress dyed their own index fingers purple as a show of support for the Iraqi people and their successful election. President Bush had closely followed the Iraqi election returns. He would later compliment those who had voted in the dangerous conditions. “For millions of Iraqis, it was also an act of personal courage,” he said, “and they have earned the respect of us all.”78

Not all Iraqis took part in the elections. The large majority of the country’s Sunni Arabs had boycotted the process or stayed away from the polls because of fear of violence. For at least some Sunni Arabs, staying home on election day was a means of protesting or potentially undermining the new Iraqi political system that had been forced on their country by the Coalition and had granted preeminent power to rival groups in Iraqi society. So many Sunni Arabs stayed away that Sunni parties garnered only 17 seats in the 275-member transitional legislature.79 The inability of the Coalition and the IIG to integrate the Sunni Arab minority more fully into the political process surely stands as the most glaring failure of the overall effort in 2003 and 2004 to remake Iraq’s system of national governance.

There were other challenges for the Coalition and the IIG on election day. Insurgents mounted close to 300 attacks on polling sites and voters to prevent the elections from proceeding. These incidents represented a fourfold increase in the average number of daily attacks and led to the deaths of 1 American, 10 British Soldiers, 8 Iraqi Soldiers, and 26 civilians.80

Nevertheless, the IIG, the UN, and the Coalition had staged the first free elections in Iraq’s modern history. This success was complemented by the fact that Coalition forces, especially the US military, managed to keep a relatively low profile as voters went to the polls. Lieutenant Colonel Bullimore, who commanded 1-6 FA, was initially skeptical that the Iraqis and their security forces could handle the elections, but was happily surprised by how the overall effort went in the city of Baqubah in the Sunni Triangle. Initially, the morning of election day had brought widespread mortar attacks in the city, but the Iraqi police and Army remained at their posts and by noon the attacks had stopped and people began going to the polls. Bullimore stated, “It was nice to see that it was working. It was nice to see some courage from the Iraqis that, ‘We are going to vote.’ I was very impressed with the police force, how seriously they took it, and how well it went at the polling sites. They were the ones that managed that.”81 Even in Kirkuk, the city most beset by political and ethnic tension, the elections were a success. As in Baqubah, insurgents launched a small number of mortar rounds at US targets early in the day hoping to intimidate Kirkuk’s citizens and prevent them from going to the polls. However, Iraqi Security Forces and the Soldiers of 1-21 IN had mounted highly focused raids on the eve of the election, detaining a number of insurgent leaders and disrupting plans to attack polling places in the city.82 There was only one attack on voters that election day. In the afternoon, a sniper began shooting at Iraqis in line at a poll site. Although four were wounded, the others in the queue refused to leave and voted despite the continued threat of violence.

From his vantage point at a higher level, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, the commander of Multi-National Corps–Iraq (MNC-I), reflected on the momentous events of late January 2005:

By far, it was one of the finest moments in my life. One thing people have to realize is that it was a very complex process. It was an Iraqi process, somewhat
supported by the UN and somewhat supported by the Coalition, but we had to make it their process. That was really hard. I really felt that if there was ever really a time, like the Tet of 1968, the enemy would expend all tactical resources for a strategic win, it would have been for the election.83

The insurgents did not succeed in making the elections their Tet offensive, and the day was clearly the pinnacle of the US Army’s efforts to build a new system of representative government in Iraq.

Chapter 10. A Country United, Stable, and Free: US Army Governance Operations in Iraq

Join the mailing list