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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 11
Training the Iraqi Security Forces

 

January 2005 Elections

On 30 January 2005 the government of Iraq planned to hold elections that would choose representatives for a 275-member Iraqi Transitional Assembly (ITA). The assembly’s task was to select a transitional government and to write a Constitution for Iraq that would later be submitted to the voters for approval. The ITA was designed to exercise legislative functions until the Constitution was approved and put into effect. These elections provided the first nation-wide test for the country’s new security forces. For both the IIG and the Coalition, it was a test that could not be failed.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2004, the Coalition worked feverishly with the ISF to prepare them to secure Iraq during the elections to prove they could be effective, were subservient to civil authority, and had broad national support. For General Casey, the MNF-I commander, the elections were the most crucial objective of the Coalition military and political campaign in Iraq. Moreover, Casey believed that putting an Iraqi face on election security was a critical requirement, stating “We felt we had to have sufficient Iraqi Security Forces available to provide security for those elections.”215 MNF-I, the IIG, and Iraqi military commanders thus planned for the ISF to lead the effort to secure the polling sites throughout Iraq. Coalition forces would remain in the background, available in case of emergencies.

The threats to the elections were indeed real. Leaders of the insurgency, especially those that headed the major Sunni Arab insurgent organizations, vociferously opposed the elections during the months before January 2005. Terrorist organizations also promised to mount operations that would prevent peaceful voting. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, reportedly stated in a speech made available on a terrorist Web site: “We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology. Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it.”216 Al-Zarqawi’s opposition to democracy was based on his particular interpretation of Islam. But other Sunnis opposed the elections because they feared the likely result would be a Shia-dominated government.


Beginning on 28 January 2005, 2 days before the election, Iraqi authorities implemented curfews, imposed severe restrictions on vehicular traffic, closed Iraq’s borders, and banned the carrying of weapons by civilians. Approximately 130,000 ISF personnel secured over 5,000 polling sites throughout the country for the elections.217 In Baghdad, for example, the 303d Battalion of the NIA (formerly a National Guard battalion) secured 24 polling stations in their AOR on 30 January 2005. They provided security in the streets surrounding the polling stations as well as at the polling stations.218

US Soldiers and Marines played a vital but limited role supporting the Iraqi forces. For the elections, nearly 184,500 US and Coalition troops secured Iraq, a level higher than the number of forces used for the 2003 invasion. Major General John Batiste, commander of the 1st ID, spent 10 months working with the ISF north of Baghdad to prepare for the elections. US forces created Joint Coordination Centers (JCCs) staffed with US and Iraqi leaders to synchronize operations. This was the ISF’s introduction to real-time command and control using 21st century technology. To help the Iraqi command deal with the scope of operations, Coalition forces and Iraqi units conducted extensive planning sessions and rehearsals. The effort paid great dividends. Batiste described the operations of the JCCs on Election Day:

We had [JCCs] in all four of our provinces and in each major city; some 21 total. Inside each JCC were all of the tools that you would need from radios to computers so that there was situational awareness and people reporting in from the field. For example, in the Diyala province, I will never forget it; there was Governor Abdullah, the brigade commander from the Iraqi Army and his staff, the provincial police chief and his staff, Iraqi emergency services, and the appropriate Coalition liaison officers. Colonel Dana Pittard was standing in the background offering suggestions. At first, the Iraqis were a little bit reticent. In their day, a command post was a desk, a map, an ash tray, and a phone. So we took them up to a new level.219

In this way, the elections marked a military as well as a political milestone. By placing the ISF forward, Coalition leaders were asking them to take responsibility for many of the command and control tasks that they would conduct once they became a fully independent professional army.

Lieutenant Colonel Steven Bullimore, commander of 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, a unit serving with the 1st ID, described the role played by the ISF in Baqubah: “We never touched a ballot box ever and there were some pretty heroic things by Iraqis. We escorted the Iraqi police delivering the ballots with protection front and back, but the only things we dealt with were the materials like the tables and the ink. The ballots themselves were sacred. They held them, and they pledged them.”220

Al-Qaeda and the other Sunni insurgent groups failed to stop the elections. Although more than 100 attacks took place across Iraq on that day killing at least 45 people (including 9 suicide bombers), the level of violence was far below expectations. In most parts of the country, the Iraqis were able to vote free of violence. Threats by opponents of the election to “wash the streets in blood” never materialized. General Casey later attributed the success of the elections to the efforts of the ISF, “The bottom line was that by the elections in January we had enough Iraqi security forces . . . to put an Iraqi face on the elections. We were out there. We set it up. We put the barriers up. We did all this stuff, but when [the elections] came out we were in the background.”221


Chapter 11. Training the Iraqi Security Forces





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