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A New Direction for Iraqis

Elections officials across Iraq are counting ballots cast in the nation's landmark elections Sunday. As workers tally the votes, world leaders praised the elections as a blow to terrorism.

A spokesman says French President Jacques Chirac, a leading opponent of the U.S-led war, told President George Bush Monday the elections were well organized and that he was satisfied by the turnout.

Elections officials in the southern city of Basra, and across Iraq, have begun the task of counting ballots. Sunday's winners will not be known for at least a week.

Iraq's Electoral Commission says up to eight million people--more than 60 percent of all eligible voters in Iraq--cast ballots. The organization in charge of expatriate voting says about 93 percent, or 265,000; registered Iraqis living abroad cast ballots.

In a televised speech, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Alawi said Sunday's large turnout means that, in his words, "Terrorists now know they cannot win."

Mr. Allawi called on all Iraqis to put aside their differences and help rebuild the country's new political system.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana also praised what he called the courage of the Iraqi voters, in the face of the ongoing insurgency. He said Sunday's vote was a positive first step in Iraq's transition to democracy.

"From now on a lot of things have to be done, to write the constitution, to prepare the training of the armed forces and police, ect., and I think they are going to find the support of the European Union, no doubt, about that, in order to see this process move in the right direction," he said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi police in the southern city of Basra danced in the streets to celebrate Iraq's first elections. That celebration was short-lived, however, as Iraqi soldiers soon found themselves in a brief gun battle with insurgents.