Monday, February 2, 2009

Basra Polling Was 'Litmus Test' for Security Forces

Iraqi police and soldiers in Basra performed well during the Jan. 31 provincial elections, a senior British officer posted in Iraq said today.

Basra's citizens "were safe and secure" when they casted their ballots, British Royal Marine Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon, commander of Multinational Division Southeast, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.

Salmon's command includes elements of the British and Australian militaries and it operates in the southernmost part of Iraq, including the city of Basra. The elections in Basra passed without major incident, said Salmon, who cited the "impeccable" performance of Iraqi soldiers and police.

Nearly 1.5 million people had registered to vote in Basra and its environs, Salmon said, adding that overall voter turnout in his area topped 50 percent. The elections took place in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Basra's voting-day success "was really important for the Iraqi security forces" there, Salmon said. "It was a litmus-test for them, and the fact that they passed with very minor incidents was a testament to the way they've developed" over the past few months.

Salmon said he was impressed by the Iraqi security forces' demonstrated performance and professionalism. For example, an Iraqi policeman was promptly "sacked" or fired on the spot by his commander, Salmon said, after the officer inappropriately fired his rifle in the air to move along a queue of voters.

Iraqi security forces in Basra will continue to improve, Salmon said, noting he predicts more joint cooperation and partnership between Iraqi soldiers and police. "Now, it's really a question of making sure that police reform continues," Salmon said.

Efforts to enhance border and port security in southern Iraq also are being enhanced, he said. With the much-improved security, Salmon said, Basra's citizens now rate crime, jobs, and the delivery of essential services as higher concerns. Those issues, he said, are "the sort of thing that anybody would be worried about in any city in the world, frankly."

Meanwhile, Basra's people are "determined not to go back to the previous 30 years of darkness," Salmon said, referring to the past brutal, corrupt rule by deceased dictator Saddam Hussein.

"They've tasted freedom recently; they like it and want more of it," Salmon said of Basra's citizens. "They want decent politicians that can deliver; they want more transparency, they want corruption dealt with. "And these elections are really the start of all of that," Salmon said.

See the article on the Australian web site here

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