RAMADI, IRAQ -- The defeatists back home didn't think it could be done. But today, the Iraqi people, only recently liberated from a repressive dictatorship, held their third election in the space of a year. After first choosing a transitional government in January, they returned to the polls in October to approve a constitution. In both cases, they turned out in great numbers under the threat of violence. Today, millions of those same Iraqi citizens trekked to one of thousands of polling places around the country to vote for candidates who will form a 275-member National Assembly that will take office on Dec. 31.
On election day, I was with the Marines of 3/7 atop an outpost in the heart of one of the most vicious neighborhoods in this very violent city of Ramadi. It was once a stronghold of the Sunni terrorist movement, but thanks to these Marines, it no longer is.
The election began at 7:00 a.m. with a bang, and the Marines were ready. They responded to the improvised explosive device (IED) and afterwards, for a time, the streets were nearly empty.
But imams, sheiks and local leaders urged people to get out and vote, and because they did, the turnout was dramatic. One local imam told his followers, "God will bless you with a great life if you go out and vote." That and similar messages were broadcast from mosques all around town.
At the end of this historic day, there was not a sound of gunfire, but instead, as the polls closed, there was a call to prayer. It was even an occasion for celebration as the neighborhood children were out in the streets, after dark, playing soccer with equipment that was given to them by Americans in uniform.
Capt. Brian Grant told me the turnout was "an overwhelming success." Indeed it was -- there were lines that wrapped around the block and extended for hundreds of people. 10 polling places ran out of ballots and had to send out for more. The safe environment provided by the Marines, with the help of Iraqi security forces and local religious leaders, gave citizens the added confidence to go to the polls without worrying about their personal safety.
It is nothing short of remarkable. Because here in Ramadi, which is the capital of Iraq's largest province and the heart of the Sunni Triangle, there has been tremendous opposition from the jihadists who did everything they could to prevent this election from taking place. In fact, in this area during the last election, less than five percent of the people turned out to vote.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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