Monday, February 2, 2009

Good News from Iraq: 2 Feb 2009

From WSJ, Iraqi Election Officials Begin Vote Tally. Check out the slideshow here.

BAGHDAD -- Election officials here turned to the daunting task of counting millions of ballots after Iraqis voted Saturday in provincial elections that saw little violence but less-than-expected turnout.

While the election itself went fairly smoothly, observers say it's critical that the polling--and now, the counting of ballots--be perceived as free and fair. A successful election would provide a shot of confidence for the Iraqi government as U.S. forces begin to pull back combat troops from cities at the end of June.

That pullback is based on a timetable set out by a security pact agreed between Washington and Baghdad last year that would see a complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011. The Obama administration is seeking ways to speed that up. A relatively corruption- and violence-free election could provide more ammunition for both U.S. and Iraqi officials to accelerate the drawdown.

Iraqi security forces had braced for widespread violence, but no major incidents were reported. Elections officials said there were no serious technical problems during voting on Saturday, which was the first time Iraqis administered elections on their own in the post-Saddam Hussein era. The last local elections in January 2005 were largely run by the international community.

"These elections mark a significant milestone for the people of Iraq, and are a major step forward in Iraq's democratic development," U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. General Ray Odierno, the top military commander in Iraq, said in a joint statement on Saturday.

But authorities are still concerned that those who lost the elections may not peacefully accept the elections results. Some 14,000 candidates ran for 440 provincial council seats.

Unofficial results should be known by the end of this week, but it will take two to three weeks for official results to be announced. Elections officials asked Iraqis to be patient as they went through the complicated counting process.

Read the rest here.