The Dec. 15 parliamentary elections saw an overwhelming turnout of Iraqi voters and a relatively peaceful polling day with little reported violence. More than 70 percent of the Iraqi population, an estimated 11 million, put their votes in what is going to establish the first full-term parliament since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Along with an 80 percent turnout of voters in the Shiite province of Najaf province, according to The Associated Press, Sunni Arabs also showed up in large numbers, bolstering the Sunni ticket for a more broad-based government.
Results may not be known for two weeks, election officials said. Vote counting began Friday morning.
"I want to congratulate the Iraqi citizens for being courageous and in defying the terrorists and refusing to be cowed into not voting," said President Bush on Thursday. "I believe freedom is universal. I believe the Iraqi citizen cares just as much about freedom and living a free life as the American citizen does."
Bush also commended the international community of Iraqis for their participation in the watershed elections this week. The polls opened to Iraqi expatriates on Tuesday, with many traveling from afar to cast their ballots at one of 557 polling stations in 15 countries.
"I was struck by how joyous they were to be able to vote for a government - a permanent government under a new constitution," said Bush. "And there's a lot of joy ... in seeing the Iraqi people accomplish this major milestone in the march to democracy."
A day before voting began for the Iraqis in their country, the United Nations drew urgent attention to the human rights situation in Iraq. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari spoke for the United Nations expressing concern about the "increasingly disturbing reports in recent weeks" about abuses, according to AP.
"The situation requires not only our continued attention but, more importantly, urgent action, particularly by the Iraqi authorities and the multinational force," said Gambari on Wednesday.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie acknowledged that the abusive practices and human rights violations, specifically toward prisoners, would not disappear quickly, but that the government will pursue it. According to Gambari, the U.N. mission in Iraq will continue encouraging all parties "to ensure that the basic human rights of all Iraqis are respected and that both past and present abuses are addressed based on the rule of law and international obligations."