The U.S. and coalition commander in Iraq says Thursday's elections went well, and he expressed the hope that the election will be a turning point in the insurgency that has plagued the country. The general spoke via satellite to staff members at the Pentagon.
General George Casey was the surprise guest at a town meeting hosted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Appearing on a large television screen, General Casey called Thursday a great day for the Iraqi people, and he expressed the hope that the insurgency might now begin to ease.
"We should expect the insurgency not to just go away because there were great elections today, but to gradually reduce as the root causes of the insurgency are addressed," said General Casey.
He said that will be the job of the new government, and he acknowledged that some divisive issues lie ahead, including a plan to amend the constitution and a debate on the amount of autonomy Iraq's various regions will have.
General Casey said the election had a high turnout and a low level of violence, and he gave a large share of the credit to Iraq's new army and police forces, which took the lead role in providing security for the vote.
"The Iraqi security forces performed wonderfully all across Iraq today," added Mr. Casey.
General Casey said he was particularly pleased with how the election went in western Iraq, which has a large population of the country's minority Sunni Muslims.
"One element that I'm particularly proud of is we expect the turnout in Anbar Province, that has been a trouble spot for us, we expect the turnout out there to have increased fairly substantially over the October referendum level," he noted.
The general said the spirit of Iraqi election day was exemplified at one polling station that was damaged by a bomb early in the morning. He said local officials repaired a wall and opened for voting by seven am.
General Casey told the American military and civilian defense officials the accomplishments of the Iraqi people and the coalition in just three years are remarkable and unprecedented. He said the accomplishments included the establishment of the transitional government, the writing and ratification of the constitution and now the election of a regular, four-year parliament, as well as the building of a new security force of more than 200,000 soldiers and police. He said it has all been done in spite of what he called a ruthless insurgency.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told the gathering the Iraqi people have established the first real democracy in the Arab world, and that coalition efforts there have made America safer.