Iraqis Want to Vote in Jan. 30 Elections, General Says

By Jim Garamone

BAGHDAD — People in Iraq want to vote in the elections for the country’s national assembly on Jan. 30, the commander of coalition forces in Ninewa province said at a news conference.

Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, Task Force Olympia commander, said anecdotal evidence suggests Iraqis in Mosul "have the desire to vote. But they don’t yet know how, or the mechanisms. We’ve got to work on that."

Ham said the coalition is working with the Independent Election Commission of Iraq to solve those problems. Elections were dealt a setback in November when the police force in Mosul – a city of 2 million people – melted before insurgent attacks.

Still, Ham said, he believes the mechanisms will be in place for those who want to vote. "The greatest problem will be to overcome (the insurgent) intimidation," he said. "We must convince the average Iraqi that on the morning of the 30th it will be safe for him, his wife and his family to walk outside his house and vote without the fear of being attacked."

Ham said the turnout in the countryside will be higher than in Mosul. But even in the city, it will be high in some neighborhoods and low in others. "I hesitate to put a percentage on it," he said.

Ham said his troops – members of Task Force Olympia – will work to destroy insurgent cells and to stop insurgent intimidation. Ham said that holding the election in Ninewa "will not be easy, but it will be done."

More than 12,000 multinational forces are in the province. Iraqi soldiers and National Guardsmen are coming in from other parts of the country. "The challenge we all have in Mosul right now," he said, "is absent the credible and capable police force that is necessary in a city that large, the lack is being compensated by additional resources — the army and the National Guard … special police forces and intervention forces and other forces from the Ministry of the Interior. All told, (the additional resources add up to) about 12,000, and about 4,000 are from outside the province."

On the day of the election, Ham said, there will be enough Iraqi security forces in Mosul to protect the polling stations. About 1,000 to 1,200 police did not run away in November, and they are still on the job. The 12,000 Iraqi army soldiers and National Guardsmen will make up the difference.

Coalition forces will respond to circumstances that the Iraqi forces cannot handle, Ham said. "We will support those security forces, help them with area security, provide quick-reaction forces and to help set the conditions in the days leading up to the elections so we can make the situation as stable as we can make it," he said.

Ham said that some of the insurgents in Mosul have come from Fallujah. "Our first warning about this came from a special police unit that had quite a battle with some insurgents," Ham said during a later interview with American Forces Press Service. "They recognized the speech patterns and told us ‘Hey, these guys are from Fallujah.’"

Ham also said there is some evidence that insurgents in Mosul are receiving money and other aid from former regime members in Syria.