- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials are adopting measures for upcoming elections in an attempt to thwart terrorist attacks on voters, including instant voter registrations on election day.

The seven-member Independent Election Commission yesterday approved instant registrations for terrorist-plagued parts of the country such as Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi, where many potential voters have yet to register, out of fear for their lives.

“We allowed the population of Mosul and Anbar [province] to register themselves the same day as polling,” said Hareth Mohammad Hassan, the commission’s energetic 33-year-old deputy director.

“A voter can just show his Iraqi documents and picture ID, get registered and vote.”

That means voters will have to show themselves only once, making intimidation by insurgents a little more difficult.

Terrorists have launched a campaign of car bombings and assassinations to thwart the Jan. 30 elections and destabilize the U.S.-backed interim government.

International organizations, however, have learned to work around the violence. One senior official of such an organization, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that he and his employees would be targeted, said his employees have been using animal husbandry stations in the Sunni Triangle to distribute voter-education pamphlets.

“They bring their sheep down to have them checked out, and we slip them election materials,” he said.

The group, which trained political parties of all stripes, asked a pious Fallujah-area tribe strongly opposed to the U.S.-led military presence to design the literature to ensure its message chimed with both Islamic principles and the cultural ways unique to the deserts of Anbar province, where Sunni Arab resistance to the insurgency is centered.

“There’s a vacuum of information out there,” the official said. “The only people handing out information are the troops. It’s probably a bad idea to use an occupying army to hand [out] election information.”

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of all forces in Iraq, said American troops and Iraqi forces had worked out plans for securing polling sites during the elections, but he declined to disclose details.

Iraqi police will be protecting the polling sites. Iraqi national guard and army units will provide another layer of security.

U.S.-led forces will be positioned away from the voting places but ready to respond to emergencies, he said.

“I need to be as crafty and cunning and do everything I can do to destroy the enemy on the front end of the elections, catch him in the act on election day and then continue to protect the Iraqis and security forces after the elections,” Gen. Metz said.

Voter education may be the biggest challenge.

Many Iraqis say they would like to vote but don’t know anything about the candidates or the process.

The election for the 275-seat parliament may be the most crucial in the country’s recent history.

The lawmakers will appoint a presidential committee that in turn will appoint a new government. It also will draw up a constitution, which must be ratified in a referendum in the summer.

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