Iraq will soon hold national elections -– a step critical to strengthening its democracy. These elections said, Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno, "are important to everyone in the region, they are important to the people of Iraq, and they're important to people outside the region because of the impact it could have on stability not only in Iraq but in the Middle East as a whole."
Countries surrounding Iraq should not be allowed to influence the elections one way or the other, said General Odierno. "There have been different agendas, some coming from Sunni Arab countries, some coming from Persian Shi'a Arab countries who are trying to drive the elections a certain way. . . .What we want is we want it to come back together and be about Iraq," said General Odierno, "not about these other regional countries."
The people of Iraq are clear about what they want the government to address, and it isn't sectarian interests. There are many polls being conducted in Iraq, said General Odierno, and all the polls are very clear about what's important to the Iraqi people: Number 1 is the economy and jobs. Number 2, is basic services, electricity, water. Ultimately, those are the issues that Iraq's politicians will need to address.
In the meantime, the groundwork is being laid for successful elections on March 7th. There are more than 6,000 Iraqi candidates and 18.9 million registered voters. Three-hundred thousand poll station workers are ready to administer the election. There are some 50,000 polling stations spread out over 9,000 polling centers. There will also be out-of-country voters in 16 countries, and the U.S. is expecting considerable turnout there. International monitoring teams will fan out across Iraq in addition to U.S. teams.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said the U.S. is helping the Iraqis with security and doing all it can to make sure that this is a successful election. "Iraq has a tremendous opportunity for an improved relationship within its region," said Ambassador Hill, "but also a tremendous opportunity to make up for some lost time in terms of being a full-fledged member of the international community."
Ambassador Hill said, "The United States very much desires a strong and long-term relationship with a democratic Iraq, and I think these elections will be a very important element of that relationship as we go forward."