Twelve million Iraqis went to the polls to vote Wednesday. But in the western province of Anbar, the election was overshadowed. About 400,000 people have been displaced in the province, and early reports suggest that turnout for the election there was low. After the polls closed, there were violent clashes.
Anbar's problem is a violent Sunni insurgency against the Shi'ite government in Baghdad, and the ensuing violence that has left the region in chaos. Iraq's army has struggled in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda splinter group that has taken over parts of major cities like Ramadi and Fallujah. It's been a bloody battle: Local authorities recorded 298 civilian deaths in the region in February, although the United Nations warned that it could not verify that figure.
The vast yet sparsely populated province has a history of violence: During the Iraq war, Fallujah was the site of the bloodiest battle to involve U.S. troops since the Vietnam War. The region was also a base of support for the Sunni government of former president Saddam Hussein: Recently, ISIS fighters have joined forces with combatants loyal to the Baath Party to form a loose alliance in Fallujah.
On Election Day, photojournalist Max Becherer accompanied The Post's Loveday Morris on a tour of Ramadi with the Iraqi army. While riding in an armored Humvee with soldiers, Max photographed the city through the windows. Through these images, Max was able to give a us a glimpse of how the Iraqi army views the province.
We've included Max's comments below.
After being in Baghdad where some civility has returned to the lives of people there, Ramadi was clearly still on war footing. Army vehicle roamed the streets and there are police checkpoints at every intersection.
In Ramadi the police carry assault weapons with a 50 round drum, not the stander 30 round magazines. The Army travels in Humvees mounted with either the American .50 Cal. Browning heavy machine gun or a BKC machine gun AND a Dushka heavy machine gun mounted on top.
Such weapons are however of little use to Iraq soldiers when they tell stories of entering homes that have been booby-trapped to explode and collapse on them when they enter the building. When hearing stories like these you know you have arrived in a serious place.
As we were taken between three different polling stations in Ramadi, we were supplied with a heavy escort of soldiers and asked to do our work as quickly as possible. We worked in a slight panic trying to take images and do as much reporting as possible before the commander received a call from his intelligence chief suggesting we move on. It was clear that Election Day was one of the calmest and most peaceful days Ramadi has seen in some time. Voters arrived at the polling station sharply dressed and took their duty to vote seriously. They did not flinch at all when the occasional bust of gunfire or boom could be heard over the city.
The relative peace didn't last. As I write this, a day after Election Day, we have seen a large cloud of smoke rise from where a police checkpoint was attacked, and this afternoon we can hear exchanges of gunfire and explosions in the distance.
Back in 2004, I met with U.S. Marine commanders at a Saddam-era palace, and today we met with the man now in charge, Senior Deputy of Defense and Culture Minister Saadoun al Dulaimi, at the very same place. Like with the Marine commander before him, his face was long with fatigue, and his speech was slow and exact, like a man who had spent long hours considering the best course of action from a list of difficult choices.
Dulaimi talked, in a vague way, about the operation he was considering in Fallujah. And for that reason I felt like a time traveler, because the last time I was in Ramadi, the Americans were considering their own strategy to take the city of Fallujah, an attack for which the Americans paid a heavy price.