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John J. Kruzel - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2010 - As parliamentary election results are tallied in Iraq, a U.S. commander there said it's unlikely any outcome would require American troops to stay beyond their scheduled withdrawal.
Polling this week has been characterized by military officials as a "historic" moment for Iraq that, barring a catastrophic event, paves the way for the drawdown of U.S. forces from 98,000 to 50,000 before September.
Asked in a news conference today if a potential balloting result exists that could change the pace of U.S. withdrawal, Army Maj. Gen. Terry A. Wolff, commander of U.S. Division Central told Pentagon reporters, "At this point, no."
An estimated 12 million Iraqis, about 62 percent of the electorate, cast votes in the March 7 election that will appoint parliamentary seats and possibly a new prime minister, pending results due out today.
Despite attacks that reportedly killed some 38 people across the country, about 1,500 polling centers in Baghdad and 350 stations in Iraq's Anbar province remained open, according to Wolff, whose area of operation is composed of these central and western regions.
"While there were a few incidents which produced casualties, and a number of noise-bottle bombs, the Iraqi security forces secured the population and provided a secure, credible election process," Wolff said. "I'd emphasize that Sunday's election-day success didn't just happen. The [Iraqi security force] owns security responsibilities in Iraq."
Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, downplayed the impact of election-day violence and said he believes the drawdown of American forces, which will be completed by the end of 2011, is on track.
"Although there was some violence, most of it was low-level violence. We had no suicide bombs, no suicide vests," he said in an interview yesterday on PBS' "Newshour."
"Unfortunately, there were some buildings that were destroyed that killed some Iraqis," he added. "But for the most part, security was very good."
Barring a catastrophic event -- something that severely undermines the Iraqi government or created a significant spiral of violence -- Odierno said plans to reduce U.S. forces in accordance with an agreement negotiated between Baghdad and Washington would not be derailed.
Odierno, heartened by the turnout and relatively low levels of violence amid balloting, said a new government likely would be formed in a matter of months, with slimmer voting margins requiring more time for a new political structure to gel.
"The people of Iraq have embraced democracy," the general said. "They clearly want to have a say in their country's future."
Odierno said the period of political transition following the election represents "a time of risk." But he sounded a note of confidence in the ability of Iraqi security forces to ensure security.
"We have worked very hard with the government of Iraq during this caretaker government to try to ensure that security will remain," he said. "And I believe we will be able to do that through this critical period."