By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 24, 2008 - A senior Pentagon spokesman hailed today's passage of a new Iraqi provincial election law, which opens the way to holding local elections within the next few months. The law's passage "is another hugely encouraging sign of progress in Iraq," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters today.
"This is exactly what we have been looking for," Morrell said.
U.S. officials have said that passage of the law is integral to Iraq's reconciliation efforts and to the establishment of peace and democracy among its various, sometimes fractious, sectarian communities.
The passage of the law sets a Jan. 31, 2009, deadline for elections in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addressed the issue yesterday during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I think every element in Iraq understands the importance of provincial elections," Gates said. "We certainly do."
Overall violence in Iraq has decreased by 80 percent in the past year. The new election law is another sign of Iraq's reconciliation and growth as a democratic nation, Morrell said.
President Bush hailed the passage of the law today in a statement released by the White House:
"Today, Iraq's parliament passed a provincial elections law enabling Iraq to hold provincial elections by January 31, 2009. Elections in Iraq can now be held under a new system that will give Iraqis more say in choosing their elected representatives.
"Nothing is more central to a functioning democracy than free and fair elections," Bush continued. "Today's action demonstrates the ability of Iraq's leaders to work together for the good of the Iraqi people and represents further progress on political reconciliation. I congratulate the members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives for coming together to pass this significant legislation."
The passage of the election law demonstrates the growth of Iraq's young democracy, Morrell said.
Through reconciliation, Morrell said, "the sooner the Iraqi security forces can grow in size and capability; the sooner we can drawdown forces in Iraq."