By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 4, 2009 - Iraq's government and its security forces deserve praise for overseeing the successful and mostly violence-free provincial elections that were held countrywide Jan. 31, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. "First and foremost, I'd like to congratulate the government of Iraq for a successful, legitimate and credible election," Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, told reporters during a Baghdad news conference.
Iraqi soldiers and police performed well during the election, Austin said, citing their "well-coordinated and executed security plan."
The "hard work and dedication" evidenced by Iraqi military and constabulary members during rehearsals in the weeks leading up to the election paid off, Austin said.
Austin noted that more than 300 attacks occurred during Iraq's 2005 election, and only 11 attacks took place during this year's election. "So, let me congratulate the Iraqi security forces again for a job extremely well done," the general said.
Elections were held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Voters chose from among more than 14,000 candidates for 440 provincial council seats. Some 15 million Iraqis had registered to vote in the election.
The election's 51-percent voter turnout rate is commendable and demonstrates "that the majority of the population is actively participating in the future of this country," Austin said.
"And, that is, indeed, very promising," he added.
The electoral results are still being tabulated and verified, Austin said, noting it'll take a few weeks before the new provincial government representatives are seated.
Austin applauded all of the candidates "for taking an active role in the election process." He also urged all Iraqis to support their newly elected provincial councils.
The relatively safe and secure Jan. 31 provincial elections didn't occur by chance, Austin pointed out.
"The conditions for safe elections were set over the past 12 months," Austin said. "And those conditions were a result of the maneuvering of Iraqi and coalition forces against Iraq's enemies."
Election security also was enhanced "by a well-developed border security strategy," Austin added, as well as "a very strong partnership" between Iraqi and coalition security forces.
The Iraqi government passed a provincial powers law nearly a year ago, Austin said, which led to the successful elections as well as much-improved security.
Over the last 10 weeks, Austin said, Iraq experienced fewer than 100 attacks per week, nationwide. That level of violence is four times lower than experienced a year ago, he said, and 10 times lower than 18 months ago. These downward trends in violence "illustrate that Iraq is moving towards a more-sustainable security, which is setting the conditions for a very prosperous future," Austin said.
The security gains observed in Iraq over the past year, Austin said, were made possible by the partnership between Iraqi and coalition security forces and by the Iraqi people's faith in their government and the citizenry's rejection of violent extremism.
"And through this election, the great people of Iraq demonstrated to the world that this is, indeed, a sovereign democracy," Austin said.
However, there are people in Iraq who want the country's provincial councils to fail, Austin said. Therefore, he said, the coalition is committed to assisting Iraq's government and its security forces to ensure that post-election transitions within each province occur smoothly.
"The coalition will continue partnering with Iraqi security forces under the framework of the security agreement to ensure that Iraq's enemies do not get an opportunity to threaten this transition to the newly established provincial governments," Austin said.