By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama called today's parliamentarian elections in Iraq as a "milestone" event and vowed to keep his pledge to remove all U.S. troops from that country by the end of next year.
With Vice President Joe Biden at his side, Obama told reporters in the Rose Garden that the second national election held in Iraq since late dictator Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003 represented "an important milestone in Iraqi history."
Dozens of Iraqi political parties and coalitions fielded thousands of candidates for parliamentary office, Obama said, including both men and women.
Obama said ballots were submitted at some-50,000 voting booths across Iraq.
"And, in a strong turnout, millions of Iraqis exercised their right to vote with enthusiasm and optimism," Obama said. "Today's voting makes it clear that the future of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq."
The election was organized and administered by an independent Iraqi electoral commission, Obama said, with critical support provided by the U.N. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis served as poll station works and as observers, he said.
Iraqi forces were responsible for providing security for the elections. There were some incidents of violence during the polling, Obama said, but overall, the level of extremist attacks was relatively muted.
The absence of great violence during the election "speaks to the growing capability and professionalism of Iraqi security forces, which took the lead in providing protection at the polls."
Obama also praised the contributions of U.S. military forces and civilians serving in Iraq "who continue to support our Iraqi partners," said Obama, who also cited the sacrifices of U.S. servicemembers and civilians who'vedied since Iraq was liberated in 2003.
The U.N., Obama said, also has a process in place to detect, investigate and resolve any allegations of voter fraud during the election.
The new Iraqi parliament "must be seated, leaders must be chosen, and a new government must be formed," Obama said. This process, he said, will take time to accomplish.
The United States, he said, does not support any particular Iraqi candidate or coalition.
"We support the right of the Iraqi people to choose their own leaders," Obama said.
There will be difficult days ahead for Iraq, Obama said, including more extremist-conducted violence.
During the period of transition to seat a new government, Iraq's neighbors should respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
And, "as today's voting demonstrates," Obama said, "the Iraqi people want disagreements to be debated and decided through a political process that provides security and prosperity for all Iraqis."
Meanwhile, Obama said, the United States will continue to fulfill its obligations to Iraq. There are currently less than 100,000 U.S. forces serving in Iraq. The responsible removal of U.S. forces from Iraq will continue, he said, with all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of next year.
In the weeks and months ahead, Obama said, the United States will continue to work closely with the Iraqi people as the two nations expand their broad-based partnership. Vice President Biden, he said, will continue to play a leading role in that endeavor.
"Today, in the face of violence from those who would only destroy, Iraqis took a step forward in the hard work of building up their country," Obama said. "The United States will continue to help them in that effort as we responsibly end this war and support the Iraqi people as they take control of their future."