President Barack Obama hailed the Iraqi parliament's passage Sunday of a much-delayed election law, declaring it a milestone as the Iraqi people take charge of their future.
In a Rose Garden statement, Obama said the development would facilitate national elections in January, as required by the constitution, and ease fears of a delay in withdrawing American combat forces by September.
Obama acknowledged the continuing sectarian and insurgent violence in Iraq, and said approval of the law was more evidence that Iraqis had chosen democracy over that chaos that threatened the country with civil war in 2006 and 2007.
"Iraq has known many challenges, and in the past several weeks we've seen that there are still those who would kill innocent men, women and children to deny the Iraqi people the future they deserve," Obama said. "Today's step forward is another reminder that these enemies of the Iraqi people will fail."
The president cited tough challenges and difficult days ahead. But, he added, "this agreement 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" under the timetable.
"I want to congratulate the Iraqi people who have taken an important step forward in pursuit of a better future," he said.
Iraqi legislators struggled with the election law, as factions representing minority Kurds and the majority Arabs battled over how to apportion votes in the disputed city of Kirkuk.
The law awaits approval by the presidential council, made up of President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, had been keying the start of a major American forces withdrawal to a period shortly after the election. Delays in passage of the election law had raised concern the election itself would be delayed, thus affecting the planned removal of American forces.
According to an agreement negotiated by the former Bush administration and the Iraqi government, all U.S. combat troops are to be out of Iraq by the end of August, with the remainder of troops _ counterterrorism forces and U.S. trainers _ to leave by the end of 2011.