Barack Obama: Iraq must be free to choose its own leaders and chart its own course

The people of Iraq have gone to the polls to choose their leaders in Iraq's second national election. By any measure, this was an important milestone in Iraqi history. Dozens of parties and coalitions fielded thousands of parliamentary candidates, men and women. Ballots were cast at some 50,000 voting booths.

And in a strong turnout, millions of Iraqis exercised their right to vote, with enthusiasm and optimism. Today's voting makes it clear that the future of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq. The election was organised and administered by Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission, with critical support from the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis served as poll station workers and as observers.

As expected, there were some incidents of violence, as al-Qa'ida in Iraq and other extremists tried to disrupt Iraq's progress by murdering innocent Iraqis who were exercising their democratic rights. But overall, the level of security and the prevention of destabilizing attacks speaks to the growing capability and professionalism of Iraqi Security Forces, which took the lead in providing protection at the polls.

We are mindful, however, that today's voting is the beginning and not the end of a long electoral and constitutional process. The ballots must be counted. Complaints must be heard, and Iraq -– with the support of the United Nations – has a process in place to investigate and adjudicate any allegations of fraud. A parliament must be seated, leaders must be chosen, and a new government must be formed. All of these important steps will take time – not weeks, but months.

In this process, the United States does not support particular candidates or coalitions. We support the right of the Iraqi people to choose their own leaders. And I commend the Iraqi government for putting plans into place to ensure security and basic services for the Iraqi people during this time of transition.

We know that there will be very difficult days ahead in Iraq. But like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq must be free to chart its own course. No one should seek to influence, exploit, or disrupt this period of transition. Now is the time for every neighbor and nation to respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Taken from remarks made by the US president on Sunday