Iraq: Ballots And Barbed Wire

Concertina wire near a police station in Mussyyib from Cami McCormick 02/28/2005 Cami McCormick/CBS

CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick is in one of Iraq's most dangerous areas, Babil province. Here is her report on election preparations:

More than 4,000 Coalition forces will be on duty in this tense area south of Baghdad on election day.

Coalition and Iraqi officials have spent weeks putting into operation a massive security plan, placing concrete bomb barriers around polling places and across streets, sealing off bridges, and "cratering" roads to prevent vehicle-borne bombs.

Boat patrols up and down the Euphrates are searching for weapons caches. U.S. warplanes and helicopters are patrolling from the skies.

But military officials insist the most important part of this operation involves the Iraqis. They will be staffing and protecting polling places, manning police stations and enforcing a curfew and a ban on civilian traffic.

"I've never seen the Iraqis work so hard at anything," said one U.S. commander.

But while an elaborate plan is in place, putting it in to action has often been frustrating. The Iraqis couldn't find civilian contractors to deliver concrete barriers to the Sunni-dominated town of Jurf As Sakhr, southwest of Baghdad, where tribal leaders have allegedly warned locals against voting.

"It's too dangerous," according to District Police Chief Lt. Col. Ali Zahawi Bress, who simply shrugged when U.S. commanders asked him about the progress there.

Iraqi police were also slow to man polling places elsewhere because their commanders didn't want to alert insurgents to the locations of the sites, mainly schools.

And when U.S. Marines and soldiers visited area police stations this week to distribute weapons to new Iraqi recruits, few had shown up for work. Many officers who were on the job were not in uniform.

"On election day, if they are near polling sites, not in uniform and carrying weapons, they will be arrested," Chief Warrant Officer Mick Flynn explained to a police commander in al Seddah. "It's really simple".

It was a speech he repeated several times throughout the day to different Iraqi commanders.

Iraqi police and security forces were in place on the rooftops of several polling stations, and as many as 400 Iraqi National Guard troops had also set up checkpoints throughout the region.

And while U.S. Marines will not be visible at polling places, they have set up temporary camps nearby and will provide back-up to the Iraqis in the event of an attack.

"I think the Iraq government and security forces have done all that they can to provide adequate security for the elections," said Major Matthew Sasse with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "I've seen a remarkable amount of coordination between the National Guard, the police and election officials, independent of coalition forces, which is heartening."

"There's going to be violence," he added. "The measure of success is that the Iraqi security forces are capable of handling the violence. And if they are, I would consider the elections a success."

Cami McCormick is an anchor and correspondent for CBS Radio News. She has covered events on-scene from the fall of the Berlin Wall to Ground Zero on September 11th. Her reports can be heard on these CBS Radio News stations.
  • Joel Roberts

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