By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 9, 2009 - President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other senior U.S. government officials hailed yesterday's Iraqi-parliament passage of a new election law that governs that country's voting processes. The election law's passage "is an important milestone" that opens the path for national voting in parliamentary elections slated early next year, Obama said yesterday in a White House statement.
"I want to congratulate Iraq's leaders for reaching this agreement," the president said. "Their flexibility and commitment to their country sends an important signal to the world about Iraq's democracy and national unity."
Obama said he looks forward to prompt approval of the new election law by Iraq's Presidency Council.
Iraqi legislators worked for weeks to craft a new election law to supersede one put in place in 2005. Using the 2005 election law as a starting point, they aimed to complete work on an updated law governing the country's voting processes by Oct. 15. But consensus was delayed on some issues, such as how to apportion Kurd and Arab political representation in Kirkuk -- part of Iraq's multiethnic northern region -- and whether candidates should be identified just by political party as was the case in the 2005 parliamentary election, or also by name.
Yesterday's approval of the new agreement, Obama said, "advances the political progress that can bring lasting peace and unity to Iraq, and allow for the orderly and responsible transition of American combat troops out of Iraq by next September."
The United States remains committed to plans to remove all of its combat forces from Iraq by the end of July. All U.S. troops are to depart Iraq by the end of 2011.
"Iraq has known many challenges," Obama said, citing recent extremist bombings in Baghdad and other locales that killed or maimed hundreds of innocent people. Yet, passage of the new election law, he said, "is another reminder that these enemies of the Iraqi people will fail."
The United States "will continue to stand with Iraq as a strong partner and as a friend," Obama said, as the Iraqi government continues to strengthen.
About 120,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. By the end of July, about 50,000 U.S. troops will remain, when the U.S. military mission there transitions from combat to stability operations.
"So, I want to congratulate our troops and civilians who are serving so capably in Iraq," Obama said, "and, I want to congratulate the Iraqi people, who have taken an important step forward in pursuit of a better future."
With the passage of the new election law, according to news reports, the Iraqi government is gearing up to hold legislative elections Jan. 21 and general elections Jan. 30.
Biden also congratulated Iraqi political leaders for approving the new election law. In a White House statement issued yesterday, Biden commended the legislators "for coming to agreement on the various difficult issues of considerable importance to Iraqis."
The vice president also saluted the United Nations assistance mission in Iraq for its important role in providing technical advice.
The Iraqi elections in January, Biden said, will mark "a critical step forward in advancing national unity and forming an inclusive government. Our commitment and friendship to Iraq remain strong."
Visiting the German capital of Berlin yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton issued a statement in which she congratulated Iraqi legislators "for reaching agreement on a law to govern the January parliamentary elections."
Clinton also praised Iraqi leaders "for finding ways to resolve complex, important issues so that the elections can go forward and look forward to prompt confirmation of this legislation by Iraq's Presidency Council."
Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission, the lead agency for conducting the upcoming elections, "will now be able to move ahead and implement the procedures for Iraq to hold credible and legitimate elections in accordance with international standards," Clinton said.
The elections, she said, will mark "a major step forward in the development of Iraq's democracy."
Election results are to be certified by the Iraqi Supreme Court.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher R. Hill and Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, welcomed the passage of the new law in a joint statement issued yesterday.
"We congratulate members of the Council of Representatives for coming to agreement on the various difficult issues of considerable importance to Iraqis," the statement said, in part. "With the passage of this law, the Iraqi people, through their representatives, have shown their desire to uphold democratic and consultative government. We encourage all Iraqis to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming elections.