Obama Congratulates Iraqis on Important Milestone’

Mar 7, 2010 5:02pm

ABC News' Vija Udenans reports: Soon after the polls closed in Iraq, President Obama congratulated the Iraqi people on their “courage” and an “important milestone” in Iraqi history.

The vote to shape the Iraqi parliament and choose a prime minister was the second national election in the country since U.S. troops invaded in 2003. The first was held in June 2005.

President Obama gave a sobering description of “difficult days ahead,” saying he expected “more violence.” 

But he observed that Iraq should be allowed to “chart its own course.”  To the neighboring countries with a vested interest, he warned, “Now is the time for every neighbor and nation to respect  Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity."

As for the United States, Obama promised that it will “fulfill its obligations,” including the “responsible removal of United States forces from Iraq."

There are now fewer than 100,000 American troops in Iraq, and the combat mission will end in August.  He reiterated that “by the end of next year, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq."

He gave recognition and “admiration” to those in uniform who served on the ground in Iraq.

“This election is also a tribute to all who have served and sacrificed in Iraq over the last seven years, including many who have given their lives,” he said.

The president was mindful that today’s voting is the beginning and “not the end of the long, electoral and constitutional process. The ballots must be counted. Complaints must be heard.”

The entire process will be lengthy, he said, taking “not weeks, but months.” 

Although there attacks by al Qaeda and others on polling places killed more than 30 people, the president said, “the level of security spoke of the growing capability of the Iraqi security forces.”

In an earlier written statement, the White House commended the Iraqi security forces for providing nearly 50,000 voting booths at more than 8,000 polling stations across Iraq.  President Obama said he had “great respect”  for the millions of Iraqis who refused to be deterred by acts of violence and exercised their right to vote.  The statement noted the loss of life, saying we “honor the courage and resilience of the Iraqi people who once again defied threats to advance their democracy.”

President Obama was joined by Vice President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden as he spoke to the press corps. Obama said that the Biden will continue to play a “leading role” in the U.S. partnership with Iraq.

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