Iraqis' Courage in Elections Is Praised

Cardinal Sodano Sees Grounds for Hope

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2005 ( With Sunday’s elections, Iraqis have laid down «courageously the new foundations» of their future, says L’Osservatore Romano.

The Holy See’s semiofficial newspaper commented on the high turnout of Iraqi voters for the balloting.

The Italian edition of the newspaper noted Monday that the voting went ahead «despite the blood and violence.» Some 10 suicide attacks on election day left dozens of people dead and almost 100 wounded. Responsibility for most of the attacks was claimed by terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, said that despite the price paid in blood, the elections were a «sign of the maturity of these people,» according to the Ansa agency.

Regarding the attacks, the cardinal said: «The difficulty was foreseen, but the people have the right to express themselves. The international community looks with hope on this day, and hopes that it might represent a step toward a future of peace for the Iraqi people.»

The front-page article of L’Osservatore Romano pointed out that «even in fear and amid many difficulties, Iraqis have been able to rediscover the pride of being citizens of a nation where it is possible to elect their own parliamentary representatives.»

More than 8 million voters — 57% of the population with the right to vote — went to the polls Sunday. Close to 94% of Iraqis living abroad who registered to vote did so.

More than 5,200 electoral tables were prepared for the elections amid stringent security measures, including the prohibition of the movement of vehicles in general, the closing of land borders and of the Baghdad airport, and a night curfew enforced in many parts of the country.

The vote counting will reveal the candidates who will fill the 275 seats in the transitional national assembly — one-third of which are reserved for women — and in the local councils of 18 provinces. The Kurds in the north also voted to designate the 111 parliamentary deputies of the three autonomous Kurdish provinces.

In the Sunni areas of Iraq the polling booths were virtually deserted. In mixed areas of the north and south, participation was modest. The turnout was high in the Shiite areas, with about 60% participation, and massive in Iraqi Kurdistan.

It is estimated that it will take about 10 days to know the official results, but preliminary data might be published earlier.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said on Monday that the elections were a victory in the face of the terrorist violence, and he appealed for national unity. «We have entered a new phase. All Iraqis, whether or not they voted, must work together to build the nation’s future,» Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.

«I would like to thank our friends of the Multinational Force for having helped us to make [the elections] a success,» he said.

Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer said on Tuesday that it would be «totally absurd» to ask the United States and the other foreign troops to leave Iraq «in this chaos and this vacuum of power,» added Europa Press.

However, the president did say that some 170,000 U.S. and foreign soldiers now in Iraq might leave the country before year-end.

After the elections, the Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel Delly of Baghdad echoed Allawi’s message and expressed agreement about the possibility of reconciliation in the country.

«The Lord himself has said to us: ‘Be reconciled.’ This is valid for the whole world, not just for Christians,» the patriarch said on Vatican Radio.

«We are all brothers and we must carry out the Lord’s will in our lives; we must be reconciled,» he added. «Charity, as the Holy Father says, is the source of peace and reconciliation. We must be charitable toward one another, toward all. Reconciliation, therefore, is possible and we must work to obtain it. There is no difference between Catholics and non-Catholics. Religion is for the Lord and the homeland is for all.»

For his part, the Chaldean auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, Shlemon Warduni, saw the elections as marking «a step forward in the quest for democracy and freedom.»

«But, on the other hand, I am not completely satisfied because not all the Iraqi people participated,» he warned. «If there is no unity for the whole Iraqi people, we will always have difficulties.»

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