The final results of Iraq's provincial elections have not yet been tallied, but the process itself is being hailed as a milestone achievement.
In a statement, President Barack Obama congratulated the Iraqi people on the January 31st election, noting that "millions of Iraqi citizens from every ethnic and religious group went peacefully to the polls across the country. ... Iraqi police and military forces helped secure the polling sites and protected voters as they cast their ballots. This important step forward should continue the process of Iraqis taking responsibility for their future," said Mr. Obama.
More than 14,400 individual candidates competed for 440 seats in 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces. The run-up to the election was notable for vigorous competition among the candidates, who pitched their messages in local meetings and with posters and promises.
All organizers and observers feel that the turnout was quite adequate to ensure that the results will be seen as fair and equitable, and that there were no significant hindrances to voting by those who sought to vote.
Iraqi election officials say that election turnout exceeded 50 percent, and, unlike the previous election in 2005, Iraq's Sunni population participated in significant numbers. In addition, there was a noteworthy involvement of Iraqi women both as candidates and voters.
U.S. Army General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, called the elections a "cause for celebration, as we salute the millions of Iraqi citizens who took to the streets to exercise their fundamental right to self-determination."
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the elections are a "key step on Iraq's path to being a full and fruitful democracy."
President Obama said that now "it is important that the councils get seated, select new governors, and begin work on behalf of the Iraqi people who elected them."