CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Ar Ramadi, Iraq -- Dawn broke over Iraq to empty, silent streets Oct. 15. A lone bus cruised down an empty street. As it dragged to a halt the door opened and a handful of Iraqi citizens boarded. Their destination: one of the many polling sites across the country where the Iraqi people would vote on the draft Iraqi Constitution.
Marines from 2nd Marine Division and Iraqi Security Forces wrapped up Operation Liberty Express this week, which provided security for 139 polling sites throughout Al Anbar province during the Iraqi Constitutional Referendum.
The results of the referendum could potentially take up to two weeks to confirm. However, the Iraqi government has said they may announce the results as early as Oct. 21.
The National Holiday declared for Oct. 13-16 couldn't have been more appropriate as over 100,000 Iraqis in Al Anbar voted to decide whether they supported the draft constitution. Although exact numbers are not known at this time, turnout vastly exceeded the elections in January, when only 3,000 Iraqi's from the Al Anbar province voted.
Initial estimates in the former terrorist-bastion of Fallujah indicate that nearly 70 percent of Iraqis dipped their finger in ink to make their mark on history. The atmosphere was described as festive at sites like Barwanah, where voters celebrated their newfound freedom to vote with laughter and dancing.
Iraqi Security Forces were responsible for the innermost security around polling centers, while the Marines were responsible for the outer areas. The Marines enforced the ban on traffic and individual weapons, and maintained a watchful eye for any insurgent activity, such as implanting roadside bombs or observation of the polling sites from a distance.
"I am extremely pleased with the role 2nd Marine Division and our partners in the Iraqi Security Forces played in helping to provide a safe and secure environment for the citizens of Al Anbar to go to the polls," said 2nd Marine Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck.
Although the Marines were successful in preventing a major incident, there were a number of smaller attacks at polling sites in Al Anbar. Some of the polling sites were shifted to alternate locations in the area but no sites were closed as a result of the attacks. And, while the voting was delayed, it was not hindered in any way.
In Ramadi, one poll worker was injured and treated on location. Instead of leaving his "post," the poll worker chose to stick it out at the polls.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with their Iraqi Security Force comrades, the Marines continue to prevent Al Qaeda in Iraq from taking the offensive. Recent operations in western Al Anbar have the insurgents on their heels and the unqualified success of the referendum in cities like Fallujah, a city the insurgents once considered a safe haven, is sure to keep them off-balance.
In some locations, initial reluctance to come out to the polls Saturday subsided as Iraqis saw coalition forces and ISF soldiers doing their job. Local Iraqis in Western Al Anbar are beginning to recognize the stability and security that theses forces bring and the progress that comes with that security. Al Qaeda in Iraq's control through murder, kidnappings, extortion and intimidation cannot stand up to the will of the Iraqi people to control their own future.