Obama praises Iraq voters who 'refused to be deterred by acts of violence'

Al Maliki praises security forces, Obama congratulates Iraqis on resisting violence.

Iraqi women show their ink-stained fingers after casting their votes at a polling station in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, on March 7, 2010. Iraqis braved waves of bomb, mortar and rocket attacks that killed 24 people to vote in parliamentary elections that Al-Qaeda vowed to wreck. AFP PHOTO/STR *** Local Caption ***  027870-01-08.jpg *** Local Caption ***  027870-01-08.jpg
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Iraqis voted under fire in yesterday's national elections, with bombs and mortars killing at least 38 people and wounding more than 100 others, despite heavy security across the country. In the worst single incident, a residential building in northern Baghdad was flattened by dynamite, killing 25.

The US president Barack Obama praised the millions of voters who turned out despite the violence "I congratulate the people of Iraq for casting their ballots in this important parliamentary election. I have great respect for the millions of Iraqis who refused to be deterred by acts of violence, and who exercised their right to vote today," he said in a statement. Prime minister Nouri al Maliki praised the conduct of Iraq's security forces.

"This day showed the failure of the terrorists and the victory of the will of the people," he said on state television. Far from being deterred, voters were in festive mood throughout much of Baghdad. "Today we are very happy, like any citizen of Iraq," said Jamal Abdullah, 52, a train driver who had taken his family to the polling station. "Two mortars landed very near our house, but it still didn't stop us coming out with all the family."

Major Gen Ahmed Saidi, in charge of security for the Khakh area of Baghdad, said his forces had located and defused 20 makeshift bombs during the previous 72 hours. One of about 200,000 police and army personnel deployed in the Iraqi capital, he proclaimed a victory over the insurgents who had vowed to derail the election. "The terrorists have lost in their attempts today," he said. "We are now moving ahead and these elections will be a final blow to the terrorists who have disrupted our lives for the past five years."

By the close of polls, at 5pm, there had been limited allegations of fraud committed yesterday, either by Iraqi or international monitors. Dozens of cross-party monitoring teams were deployed at each polling station. However, Eyad Allawi, the leader of the Iraqiyya party and seen as the main rival to Mr Nouri al Maliki, called for an investigation of election officials, accusing them of lax procedures and demanding an accurate vote count.

"There was major confusion inside and outside Iraq in the voting centres and that leaves a question mark over the IHEC's role," said Mr Allawi, referring to the Independent High Electoral Commission. newsdesk@thenational.ae