Last week I went to go visit the headqaurters of the 2nd Brigade, 6th Infantry Division of the New Iraqi Army. I was riding along with the Division G3-Operations in order to make a routine visit/house call with his Brigade S3 counterpart. 2nd Brigade is one of the two Iraqi Brigades that currently control their own sectors here in Baghdad. We made the trip as part of our routine "battlefield circulation." (Militar-ese for checking up on subordinate units.) As we drove down the formerly infamous Haifa Street, our progress was slow, not because of the elevated threat, but because of the heavy traffic. What had been a semi-deserted shooting gallery was again a bustling business district. Kiosks and stores bursting with goods for sale and shoppers were pushed all the way to the curb. Our time at 2nd Brigade was productive as the Operations Officers discussed better ways to stay connected, control forces and ensure timely reporting. Timely reporting of events is one of our big challenges, partially due to communications gear, but also due to bad habit. Our drive was uneventful in both directions. Not every look we received was pleasant as we drove past, but many were. I have posted a new photo album with pictures from the drive and our stop at 2nd Brigade in the left margin. Campaign posters were literally everywhere. They seemed like urban wallpaper in much the same way as we see entertainment posters plastered on construction sites back in the USA. There is also the same vandalism of opponents' campaign posters as we see from time to time at home. This may not be good manners, but it is a sign of a spirited campaign to say the least. The pre-election campaign is in full swing as candidates are campaigning openly this year rather than quietly submitting their names for the ballot as they did last year and hoping they did not get assasinated for doing so.
The overwhelming majority of Mosques are preaching participation in the election this time as the consequences of boycotting elections have been deemed to be undesireable. Both Shia and Sunni Mosques are preaching the "get out the vote" message" including several Mosques that have been virulently anti-coalition and pro-insurgency. While they are probably just "playing both sides" of the game, it is still a good thing to hear them pushing their followers to embrace the ballot rather than only the gun.