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Election Day Violence

Insurgents Attacked, but Voters Persevered

Resolute Electorate, Blanket Security Thwarted Onslaught

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 1, 2005; Page A11

BAGHDAD, Jan. 31 -- Insurgents made good on their repeated threats to attack Iraq's polling stations on election day, unleashing car and suicide bombs, mortars, rockets, small-arms fire and grenades in 109 separate attacks, according to U.S. officials.

In all, there were more attacks than on any other day in Iraq since the U.S. invasion almost two years ago. Across the country, insurgents launched 260 attacks against targets of all kinds, including U.S. military and Iraqi security forces, officials said. Yet the casualty count -- 45 dead, about 100 wounded -- did not rank among the highest one-day totals.


Iraqi soldiers celebrate in Najaf a day after the vote. U.S. officials praised Iraqi forces for their role in securing polling sites. (Alaa Marjani -- AP)

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The insurgents' unprecedented effort to sow fear was overshadowed by the determination of multitudes of ordinary Iraqis to vote regardless of the danger and by the effectiveness of the joint Iraqi-U.S. security operation that allowed them to do so.

"The insurgents tried to disrupt this election with the highest level of attacks we have ever seen. They did not succeed," a U.S. diplomat in Baghdad who briefed reporters Monday said on the condition he not be identified further. "To be blunt, there were very low casualties for the number of attacks.

"This was a terrific security effort, particularly by the Iraqi forces."

The day was not, however, an unqualified success for multinational and Iraqi forces. A British military C-130 cargo plane crashed Sunday afternoon, and on Monday an insurgent group claimed to have shot it down with a missile. Also, two U.S. Marines were killed in separate incidents Sunday.

Still, the striking success of election security was the talk of Baghdad on Monday.

The city of 5 million was locked down tight on election day. Car bombers had no chance on streets emptied of every vehicle except the blue-and-white trucks of the Iraqi police and the U.S. patrols that were stationed at every major intersection. Side streets teemed with people walking to polling stations. Children played raucous soccer games on every thoroughfare.

Baghdad residents said their city on Sunday reminded them of the days immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, only far safer. With Americans almost omnipresent and intently focused on people's behavior, no one dared carry away large sections of the capital's infrastructure as thousands of looters did, unchallenged, for weeks following the invasion.

As U.S. officials toured the city Sunday, several privately asked colleagues how different the last two years in Iraq might have been if the invasion force had been able to secure Baghdad after taking it.

"Yeah," said one U.S. official, "maybe they wouldn't have looted the whole [expletive] place, not to put too fine a point on it."

"I'm always attracted to the statement of [Winston] Churchill's that you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing -- after they try everything else," the official said.

The emphasis this time, however, was on the Iraqi forces. About 100,000 recently trained Iraqi soldiers and police officers were on duty over the weekend, supplementing the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. And while the Americans held the streets and stood primed to help, it was Iraqi forces who stood guard at the nation's 5,000 polling sites.

American and Iraqi officials agreed, however, that the performance of Iraqi forces does not mean they are ready to take over for U.S. troops in battling a complex insurgency. At a Baghdad news conference, interim Interior Minister Falah Naqib said that his ministry's forces, some of whom U.S. commanders have previously singled out for praise, are still 18 months from being "qualified."


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