Tue, Mar 09, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Obama says Iraqi vote a milestone, despite bombings

SECOND TRY Estimates from local officials showed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was the front-runner nationwide, and he was leading in Shiite regions

AP AND AFP , WASHINGTON AND BAGHDAD

US President Barack Obama praised Iraqis for passing “an important milestone” on Sunday, when millions turned out for national elections despite insurgent attacks that killed more than 30 people.

No doubt relieved that violence was not worse, Obama said Iraqi security forces showed maturing capabilities as they protected the nation through a day that was ripe for attacks by Sunni Muslim insurgents and al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“Today’s voting makes it clear that the future of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq,” Obama said.

The vote was Iraq’s second national election since the US-led invasion in 2003. The big turnout and limited violence were seen as key to the planned withdrawal of US combat forces by Aug. 31.

Obama again vowed to meet that deadline and to carry through with the subsequent removal of all the remaining 50,000 US troops by the end of next year.

There are now fewer than 100,000 US forces in the country, the smallest number since the overthrow of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

In the last election, in 2005, Sunnis largely boycotted the vote. Before a new government could be formed an important Shiite mosque was bombed in Samarra, setting in motion two years of sectarian bloodshed that took the country to the verge of civil war.

“By any measure, this was an important milestone in Iraqi history,” Obama said. “In a strong turnout, millions of Iraqis exercised their right to vote with enthusiasm and optimism.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the voting was a “rebuke to the violent extremists who seek to derail Iraq’s progress.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost friends and loved ones, and we salute the determination of the Iraqi people to reaffirm their commitment to democracy,” she said in a statement.

US Iraq commander General Ray Odierno discounted the violence.

In an unclassified report, he said: “I believe we had only 3-4 significant events” countrywide.

He said security measures had forced insurgents to switch tactics, forgoing car and suicide bombings altogether.

Odierno had high praise for Iraqi forces, saying they “performed superbly today. They passed this test with flying colors and provided a security environment in which Iraqis could safely cast their votes.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki emerged yesterday as the front-runner in the election, estimates from local officials across the country showed.

Maliki was leading in Shiite regions while Iyad Allawi, a former Iraqi prime minister who now heads the secular Iraqiya list, was ahead in Sunni areas, the unofficial estimates showed.

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