Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Natalie Hedrick
3rd HBCT Public Affairs Office
CONTINGENCY OPERATING STATION ECHO, Iraq – They are the second National Elections held since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and voters have taken advantage of their freedom in full force.
Citizens from the five provinces of Babil, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Najaf and Wasit, visited one of over 3,000 polling sites Mar. 7 to cast their vote in an elections that military leaders are saying represents legitimacy, stability, and freedom of choice.
“The significance of these elections,” according to Maj. Mike Anders, Mid-Euphrates Operations Center Project Officer, “is that they will determine who will be in power when the Americans are gone.”
The MEOC is the monitoring station for operations and intelligence assets for the five provinces under the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division’s operational environment.
“By the time the 3rd [HBCT] pulls out, the new government will be seated,” he added. “This is a key time for the Iraqi Government to stand on their own, to work beyond the different sects, and to survive as a nation politically.”
“We are leaving making this truly their elections,” said Maj. Charles Hiter, 3rd HBCT intelligence officer. “This is their new government.”
Compared to the first National Elections held in 2005, candidates were now able to advertise and campaign, Anders said.
“Last elections they did not have a very good turnout probably because of the lack of campaigning,” he said. “They had a closed list so voters didn’t know who was running for what.”
These past elections, voters were able to see what candidate was running for what position.
Hiter explained visiting the polling sites has been a family social event for many Iraqi voters despite the lingering threat from the still present extremist organizations.
“Extremist organizations are challenging a stable and successful Iraq ultimately striving for a more anti-western nation,” he said. “They are protesting the western values and democracy, but people went to vote in the elections so the terrorists have failed.”
According to Lt. Gen. Othman Ali Farhood al Ghanimi, commander of the 8th Iraqi Army Division, the volume of voters increased throughout the day. He believes citizens waited through the morning to assess the security situation. When they realized it was safe, they visited the polling sites.
“The Iraqi people previously did not have the freedom to do this,” Anders said. “Now they are doing it in the face of the enemy.”
Col. Peter Jones, commander of the 3rd HBCT said the events March 7 are just the beginning. The end will come in the months following the elections when the new government is seated and starts to function. Jones believes this will open a new window of opportunity for the provincial government to step up and meet the needs of its citizens.