FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The coordinated and combined efforts of all Iraqi Security Forces contributed to a peaceful and a successful referendum here Saturday, not only in the city of Fallujah but throughout Regimental Combat Team 8’s areas of operations.
In Fallujah, an estimated 100,000 Iraqi citizens cast their vote – and a squad of ISF was at each of the 60 polling sites to ensure the Independent Electoral Counsel of Iraq (IECI) conducted the election without outside interference.
According to Maj. Kevin E. Clark, RCT-8 Iraqi Security Forces coordinator, the ISF were the center point of the voting.
“Leading up to the election, the Marines understood that IECI would be responsible for polling site security and logistics – taking ballots out to the sites, securing the sites, returning the ballots once voting was completed,” said Clark, a 34-year-old native of Smithville, Mo. “When we actually met up with the IECI representatives a few days prior to the election, it became clear that they did not have the manpower or equipment to accomplish these tasks. They had no means of transportation or placards to put in vehicles that would identify them and enable them easy access throughout the city to do their job.”
That is where the ISF came in. Iraqi Security Force Commander Brig. Gen. Salah Khaleel Hamady, volunteered his forces to service to the IECI representatives.
Coalition Forces here have been preparing for the referendum voting for a long time—especially during the last three months. “We have worked with Brig. Gen. Salah, organizing, building, training and equipping his force since we deployed from Camp Lejeune, NC,” Clark explained.
“They came together very quickly and worked days straight to secure the polling sites and prepare for the elections,” said Clark. “By Oct. 14, they delivered all the ballots to the polls. We had connectivity via Motorola radios and mobile phones that were all tied into the police headquarters so they could communicate and coordinate support and delivery of the IECI workers.”
According to Clark, there are still hurdles that the ISF face. The corruption of Saddam Hussein’s regime is still in the back of every Iraqi citizen’s mind. Mistrust from the past still lingers but it is progressively being erased. The Joint Coordination Center, which was stood up in early September 2005, has helped to overcome that mindset in the Fallujah district.
The JCC is made up of representatives from the Iraqi Security Forces and the Fire Department. Clark said that the JCC has forced lateral communication between those units at the liaison officer level and spawned coordinated operations. There are also Marine Corps liaison officers, watch officers and watch clerks at the JCC who are rotated in from the RCT-8 ISF cell at Camp Fallujah.
The ISF were asked to transport voting material, provide security and to report atmospherics at the sites.
Clark says that he gained insight into what the election process really means to the people of Iraq as he witnessed what took place the day before the referendum.
“When the ISF vehicles pulled into Fallujah’s Civil-Military Operation Center to pick up the balloting material on the morning of Oct.14, there was a row of ISF on the balcony overlooking them,” said Clark. “Immediately, the ISF in vehicles pulled out large Iraqi flags and put them on their cars. On the balcony, ISF were overlooking the compound. I saw a couple of them with tears rolling down their faces,” Clark recalled.
“They were extremely proud to be a part of what the day signified. To them, I guess it was like our Fourth of July. It was just contrasting in perspective for me. Sometimes as a Marine we get consumed with execution checklists and time lines.”
Clark said that we should never forget that this was a huge event for the people of Iraq.
“It was a national celebration for them just to be able to vote – whatever the vote decides,” he said.