Obama praises Iraqis on provincial elections

January 31, 2009 2:07:30 PM PST
President Barack Obama congratulated Iraqis on Saturday's provincial elections and urged the winners to work for their people. Obama said the elections for the provincial council seats were significant, peaceful and important steps toward Iraqis taking responsibility for their future. His statement did not address complaints from local officials that the Shiite-led government attempted to keep the minority Sunnis from full participation.

"Millions of Iraqi citizens from every ethnic and religious group went peacefully to the polls across the country to choose new provincial councils," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "It is important that the councils get seated, select new governors and begin work on behalf of the Iraqi people who elected them."

Obama also noted that the U.S. provided technical assistance to the Iraqi electoral commission, as did the U.N. and other international groups. He didn't, however, mention the U.S. troops that patrolled the country - away from voting booths - while the new Obama administration in Washington considers a new strategy for the unpopular war in Iraq.

It will be days before initial results are released, but officials in Iraq claimed success. Election observers and others were examining a growing list of complaints, including claims that hundreds of people - perhaps more - were wrongly omitted from voting lists in areas across Iraq.

Voters in all but four northern areas cast ballots and dipped their fingers in purple ink, the new symbol of democracy in a country once ruled by Saddam Hussein.

The elections were conducted without major violence, but there were claims of flaws and threats of challenges.

Those grievances could complicate politicians' efforts to force coalitions among the 14,000 candidates for the influential regional posts some six years after the U.S.-led invasion.

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