U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday's parliamentary elections in Iraqi were a milestone in that country's history. The president said it is clear that the future of Iraq belongs to its people.
As the vote count began, President Obama went before television cameras at the White House to congratulate the Iraqi people. "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," he said.
Mr. Obama said voter turnout was strong, despite a string of attacks across the country that left dozens dead.
The president said the bloodshed was the work of al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremists who were determined to disrupt the electoral process by killing innocent people.
But he said the violence was far less than originally feared. "Overall, the level of security and prevention of destabilizing attacks speaks to the growing capability and professionalism of Iraqi security forces, which took the lead in providing protection at the polls," he said.
President Obama went on to warn against complacency, noting that tough work lies ahead. He said Sunday's balloting was only the beginning of a long electoral process. He said election complaints must be addressed, a new parliament must be seated and a new government must be formed.
Mr. Obama warned other nations not to interfere with the process. And he made clear the United States will not try to influence the outcome. "In this process, the United States does not support particular candidates or coalitions. We support the right of the Iraqi people to choose their own leaders," he said.
President Obama did not mention any of the major contenders for power by name. He said only that the Iraqi people have proven they want disagreements to be debated and decided through a political process that provides security and prosperity for all.
He said that as the Iraqis move forward, they know that the United States will live up to its obligations. "We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, carry out targeted counter-terrorism operations with our Iraqi partners, and protect our forces and civilians," he said.
Mr. Obama noted that for the first time in years, there are now fewer than 100,000 American troops in Iraq. All U.S. combat forces are scheduled to be withdrawn from Iraq by September, and all remaining American troops are expected to be out of the country by the end of next year.