American Rahlves falls short of X Games gold

Marcella Ruch, founder of Mission Medical Clinic. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT/THE GAZETTE

Even during the tumult of local elections, southern Iraq remains surprisingly placid, a Fort Carson brigade patrolling there has found.There are incidents, but they're rare and even more rarely aimed at Americans. The 3,800-soldier 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which went to Iraq last fall, sees one significant act of violence per week, down from dozens a day earlier in the war. It has faced two bombings and two mortar attacks during three months in the war zone."We spend most of our time making inroads with the government here," Col. Butch Kievenaar, the brigade's commander, said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Diwaniyah, about 100 miles south of Baghdad.This is what American involvement in Iraq is eventually supposed to become: Kievenaar's soldiers advise Iraqi troops and give local authorities backup when they request help. There are no unilateral efforts for the brigade.If there are troublemakers about, they're an Iraqi problem first.Kievenaar's troops are still armed with tremendous firepower, which can be unleashed instantly in an attack. Americans are allowed to defend themselves under the new rules.But so far, he said, there's been little need.Instead, Kievenaar finds himself talking with Iraqis about how government functions after a peaceful transition of power. This week, voters in southern Iraqi provinces patrolled by the brigade will go to the polls to dump candidates they dislike and keep those who have earned favor to run the local version of county governments.It's the talk of the town in Hillah, Najaf and Diwaniyah where the brigade's far-flung battalions are stationed.But it's all foreign to the Iraqis, who had their last elections only under the protection of American arms, and for decades before that had leaders picked for them by a brutal dictator and his toadies."This is the first time they've ever really done this," Kievenaar said. "There's a potential you could have a significant shift in who has power here."Luckily, Kievenaar has a handy example that has been followed closely by citizens and sheiks - the Jan. 20 inauguration that saw Democrat Barack Obama take power from Republican George W. Bush."They are curious about what democracy really is," Kievenaar said "They wonder how it will be applied and executed here in Iraq."Kievenaar's forces will be ready to stop trouble on election day, but the Iraqi army and police forces will be handling security.Meanwhile, Kievenaar is preparing his soldiers for the sweltering summer ahead.Troops have air-conditioned living facilities, Internet and telephone service.Temperatures have been pleasant there in recent days, with temperatures hanging in the 60s, about half their summertime highs.But there is still plenty of misery for troops. Sandstorms roil across the land turning day into twilight."It averages twice a week," Kievenaar said.