Email from Dave - Jan 30, 05
Today, the interim Iraqi Government held elections. I am not sure how the media is portraying the day's events; but I thought you might want to know how things went here in Fallujah.
Part of the motivation for the attack on insurgents in Fallujah back in November was to set the conditions for successful elections to be held 30 January. It was understood going into the attack that Fallujah had become a source of instability and violence that radiated to all corners of Iraq. If the insurgent leadership headquarted inside the city was not directly projecting operations to cities as far away as Basrah or Mosul, their activities and overt posture undoubtedly inspired insurgents in other parts of the country to continue.
Once the Marines, Soldiers and Sailors were finally turned loose on the muj in the city, they dealt the enemy a crushing defeat. As I have described to you earlier, one of the most effective weapons the insurgents have employed to date is their propaganda. They lord over the people of Iraq by maintaining a very credible atmosphere of fear and intimidation. However, they also focus their information efforts inward.
When recruiting a 22-year-old Syrian or sustaining the morale of a 19-year-old Saudi, the mantra concerning Fallujah was common: "The Americans will never enter the city. They are afraid to fight us face-to-face and their people will never accept the casualties necessary to remove us from the city." We know this to be true. Their information efforts were very effective and resulted in a brazen defiance among the muj and a life of fear and subjugation among the people.
When the Marines finally took the city, it was a tremendous psychological defeat to the enemy in addition to the obvious tremendous losses in enemy personnel and supplies. The dogged, relentless pursuit lead by the Captains and Sergeants in hunting down the final pockets of enemy inside the city and destroying them in exceptionally close and violent engagements following the main battle further cemented November's losses. It is becoming obvious that the inescapable reality of the insurgents' plight and the foundation of lies upon which they pinned their cause in the end was both obvious to them and to the population that was watching closely from the edges of the city as well.
In the ensuing weeks as the population returned, the Marines have committed an amazing effort to cleaning the city and coexisting with the people. The planning and work that went into November's offensive was extensive but now it pales in comparison to the effort that has been made to make the city livable again while building a relationship with the people of Fallujah themselves.
The Marines' days have been spent mentoring new Iraqi soldiers, removing debris, delivering potable water to tanks placed throughout the city, organizing civic leadership, and a myriad of other tasks you would never expect of young men who fought so hard to take the city at great personal cost. However, even as these humanitarian efforts continue daily, the Marines know that the enemy wants nothing more than to re-enter the city and return it to the violent abyss where it resided at the beginning of November. It is impossible for me to put into words how these young men are able to travel the spectrum of violence and emotions every day and simply continue to deliver without failure. It is easy to become cynical and believe that the local people do not appreciate the positive aspects of the effort. Today, it appears as if they do.
During the weeks leading up to the elections, the enemy had been relentless in his threats and posturing against the people and has made it very clear that anyone who attempted to vote would be killed. Compared to the average American, the Iraqi people have lived a life of extreme violence and fear. Because of this, the insurgents' threats did not fall on deaf ears.
In all honesty, we expected a very light turnout at the polls in Fallujah. To provide just a couple of specific examples of the terror campaign that has been ongoing in this area consider the following:
Several days ago, in the area just south of the city, Marines found a local sheik dead in the road. His hands were tied behind his back and he had been shot from behind. On his body, a rock was placed over a note that read that the sheik was cooperating with coalition forces and that anyone else who did so would meet the same fate.
Down the road in Ramadi, two Iraqi Solders were kidnapped, beheaded and left in the street. Their heads were placed on their bodies and cigarettes had been put in their mouths.
Rumors of huge explosions and suicide attacks on polling places were widely circulated.
With this backdrop in mind, today's elections began shortly after dawn. Even though the days for the Marines here tend to run together, this morning was different. By dawn, the Regiment had surged and both Iraqi Soldiers and Americans canvassed the streets.
Five polling places were established inside Fallujah. As the polling stations opened, trucks of Iraqi Soldiers began arriving to vote at one of the primary stations. The enthusiasm of the Iraqis surprised the Marines. Watching them move past the Marines and Iraqis on the perimeter of the site and then reemerge from the polling tent, the best description I can offer was "joyful." They got it. As bleak as things have seemed to them over the past two years, this morning was a tangible reward for their personal courage and sacrifice.
As the locals saw the Iraqi Soldiers emerging from the polling tent and exchanging handshakes with the Marines, they began to slowly emerge from their houses. The Regimental CO ordered the PSYOP trucks to begin broadcasting wake up calls extolling the locals that the polling centers were open and secure and that the people should come out and vote.
Seeing must have been believing because before we knew it, they were emerging from their houses and moving into line to vote. The first person I actually saw go into the polling tent was a woman who came out alone. Others soon followed. Even after everything the Marines have seen, it was an amazing site.
Nearby, the Marines were walking through a recently established open-air market on a street corner. People gathered around and informal conversations began between them and the Marines. This same intersection had been a muj strong point just weeks before. This morning, Marines and locals were on the same intersection shooting the breeze as elections were taking place down the block. As the day went on, more and more people came out to vote. The positive atmosphere seemed to build.
Just a few images as the day progressed:
HMMWV"s parked in the median of the main avenue through town with Marines hanging out talking with Iraqis as they walked to the polling center.
A few people actually seeking Marines, Soldiers and Sailors out on the street and thanking them relating that it was the first time in their lives their votes meant something.
A truck pulling up to a polling site overflowing with Iraqi Soldiers going to vote. The Soldiers were actually singing in the back of the truck and then jogging through the wire to get to the polling station.
Kids going through the polling centers with their parents.
Kids lined up outside the polling centers to watch.
Marines on rooftops overwatching the polling centers taking in the first free elections in an area they literally just fought through weeks before.
The RCT SgtMaj attaching a full sized Iraqi flag to the back of his vehicle and driving through the city being greeted by thumbs up and shouts of encouragement from both the Iraqi soldiers and citizens.
Of course not everyone voted in Fallujah today but just under eight thousand people did. No one expected such a turn out and any voting in Fallujah at all seemed like fantasy just three months ago.
There are no delusions here as the insurgency is still alive and well and the Marines know that Fallujah remains a dangerous place. There is still much work to be done. Just outside the city, guys were still fighting their tails off today. But for one day in Fallujah it was great to watch the Marines and Iraqi Soldiers enjoy a little success that they sacrificed so much to earn.
Tomorrow will probably be back to business as usual. However, even after all that the Marines have seen and been through you could see it on their faces - Today was a good day.
See you soon,
Click on the link to see the source. The Green Side