By Edward Lee Pitts, Military Affairs
CAMP CALDWELL, Iraq -- Iraqi election officials this week said the crowds of voters for Sunday's elections marked the beginning of a new Iraq. "The people forgot the bad guys," said one official from the town of Jalula using a translator. "The people decided they wanted to stop the problems in Iraq."
For security reasons, the election official did not want his name used.
Gathered inside the mess hall at Forward Operating Base Cobra, Iraqi election officials assigned to oversee the voting at polling sites in three cities waited Monday for a U.S.-escorted convoy to take them to Baqubah, where the ballots would be counted beginning Tuesday.
Several officials said they expected the turnout to be much lower, but the heavy presence of Iraqi security forces at polling sites quelled fear about possible strikes.
"They were all around," Iraqi citizen Saywan Sirwan said about the police at his polling site in Qara Tapa.
An election official from As Sa'diyah, a favorite target of insurgents in the days before the vote, said turnout there reached about 70 percent of eligible voters.
Mr. Sirwan, through an interpreter, said when a mortar round did fall about 10 meters away, killing a boy, the voters kept coming. Many of the citizens said they risked death because their village tribal elders ordered them to vote for the future of their country.
Mr. Sirwan said the loss of life on election day seemed insignificant compared to the total population in the country. It was a price worth paying for freedom, he said.
The As Sa'diyah election official, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said he had not slept or eaten much during the four days before Sunday.
The work paid off, according to Mr. Sirwan, 25. He said he almost wept when he saw people carrying into his polling site a dying 95-year-old man determined to cast a ballot.
"He said it would be his first vote," Mr. Sirwan said. "I am sure that it would also be the last time he voted."
Mr. Sirwan said he did not mind giving out his name because he is proud of the work he did Sunday to help his country.
"Sunday was a win for the Iraqi people," Mr. Sirwan said. "It's a celebration of all Iraq."
E-mail Lee Pitts at email@example.com