Iraqi expatriates across the globe will help elect their country's 275-member National Assembly, which will choose the first fully constitutional government since the American invasion in 2003. Fakharia Al-Ghazali cast her ballot yesterday at an Iraqi national elections voting center in Dearborn, Mich.
Historic Iraqi ballot
Isle unit guarding polls
A right index finger stained with purple ink will continue to be a powerful symbol of Iraq's emerging democracy after today's historic elections, said a key leader of Hawaii's National Guard troops in Iraq.
"(Voter) turnout is expected to be high in our Sunni-dominated province," Col. Bruce Oliveira, deputy commander of the more than 3,000-member 29th Brigade, wrote in an e-mail. "The Iraqi people will refuse to be intimidated and will demonstrate the courage required to establish self-government."
Voters' index fingers are dipped in purple ink to ensure that they do not vote more than once.
Today's elections for Iraq's 275-member Parliament will give the country its first four-year-term legislature since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Iraqis elect their parliament, the final step of a U.S. blueprint for democracy|
Iraqi police and soldiers are responsible for the primary security in and around polling areas. The military has said the role of U.S. and coalition forces is to support the Iraqi effort, and that it will not patrol polling sites.
Coalition forces like Hawaii's 29th Brigade have delivered Jersey barriers, concertina wire, flashlights and searching wands to polling places, and are being used as quick-reaction forces.
Coalition officials say the most likely threats will be car bombs, female suicide bombers and mortar and rocket attacks on forward operating bases and the embassy compound. Military officials said coalition forces were ready to act against anyone who might try to disrupt the election.
"The country will be in a virtual security lockdown during the elections," Oliveira said.
One 29th Brigade unit -- the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry -- is patrolling an area 50 miles north of Balad, home to both minority Sunnis, who make up the core of Iraq's insurgency, and Shiites.
On Tuesday, Sunni candidate Mezher al-Dulaimi was assassinated in Ramadi, and another candidate escaped a roadside bombing before Iraqi authorities imposed a three-day nationwide curfew. That same day, four U.S. soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing northwest of Baghdad.
Lt. Col. Colbert Low, commander of nearly 700 soldiers assigned to the 100th Battalion, said his troops are expected to provide quick-reaction forces to help Iraqi Security Forces if they require assistance.
Iraqi police and military units have taken the lead in ensuring a safe and secure environment for the elections, he said.
Low wrote in an e-mail: "The Iraqi Police will be providing security at each polling site and the Iraqi Army will be providing security on the roads and surrounding area. Our forces are prepared to respond if asked by the Iraqi Security Forces or civilian government."
Low said his battalion and 29th Brigade engineers in the days leading up to today's elections "have been busy fortifying each polling site with concrete barriers and concertina wire."
Today's assignment is the largest and possibly most dangerous one before the 29th Brigade leaves Iraq and returns home in January after nearly a year there.
Some family members of soldiers serving with the 100th Battalion said the soldiers were fired upon while setting up concertina wire, underscoring the tensions and danger surrounding the elections.