By Spc. Samuel Soza, USDS Public AffairsMarch 2, 2010
The Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team and members of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, have been assisting various stakeholders with their efforts to ensure that the national elections held March 7, are run fairly and safely.
Teams of observers from the United Nations, embassy representatives, embedded media and security personnel have arrived in provinces throughout southern Iraq.
Though the observer teams are U.S.-led due to security concerns, the teams will operate independently of U.S. security forces to complement Iraqi planners, said Bob Wong, Babil PRT public diplomacy officer.
"We've taken great pains to ensure it's an Iraqi election," said the Eustis, Fla. native.
According to Wong, nearly every country, including the United States encourages international observers. Wong said he had the opportunity to meet some Iraqi citizens who have observed U.S. elections at one time.
During the parliamentary election, observers will look for signs of outside coercion or intimidation and ensure that the voting process is organized, said Wong.
"They are looking for business to be conducted as usual," he said.
Additionally, Maj. Gary Bantad, a civil affairs officer with 3rd HBCT, said that observers will be present at both the special-needs election March 4, and the general elections, March 7.
"They will also be witnessing the counting of the ballots," said Bantad, a Virginia Beach, Va. native.
The observer teams are coming into an election framework that has been under construction for a number of months.
Various international and "largely Iraqi" nongovernmental organizations will play an important advisory role, providing technical capacity to assist the election process, Wong said.
"For any new democracy, technical advice is important," he said, "They have the nuts and bolts, but where they need the most help is with coordination."
Advisors are helping by training election staff and familiarizing people at the polls with the voting process. The former has been in important focus that has been quickly grasped, Wong said.
"Now that they're good enough at that, they have begun the electioneering part," he said, "Personality [of poll worker] will play a role."
Security at election sites has been a major concern and a large part of the planning.
That role is lead by the Iraqi Security Forces and, in Babil Province, is in cooperation with the 3rd HBCT.
"ISF are on top of it," Bantad said, "Security plans are in place. We've partnered with them in an assist role so we'll provide QRF [quick reaction force] or medical assistance."
One of the final challenges has been mobilizing the voters and giving them confidence in their voting power.
"The problem is of perception," Wong said, "The final proof of legitimacy of the election is that the Iraqi people believe it was fairly run. That's my standard."
He said it is a good sign that members of one of the minority parties have said they plan to vote because they feel their votes will actually be counted.
Wong, who has worked in other elections including Liberia, Bosnia, Bangladesh and the west African country of Benin, said that he is both realistic and optimistic about the elections.
"There will be hiccups without a doubt," he said, "But it will be a well-run effort."
Wong said that, overall, he feels like the progress in Iraq, as manifested by the upcoming elections, is best described by something an Iraqi man told him.
"There is an Arabic saying that goes, 'The first house you build, you sell," Wong said. "The second house you build, you rent. The third house you build, you keep.' He told me, 'This is our second house.'"