| GEO World|
| Obama keeps US troop withdrawal plan after Iraq poll|
| Updated at: 0207 PST, Monday, March 08, 2010|
WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama congratulated Iraqis on Sunday for braving violence to vote in a parliamentary election, praising Iraqi security forces and
repeating his end-2011 deadline for removing all US troops from the country.
Scores of mortar rounds, rockets and roadside bombs exploded near polling stations across Iraq, killing 38 people, in an apparent effort to scare voters participating in an election for Iraq's second full-term parliament since the 2003 US invasion.
"As expected, there were some incidents of violence as al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists tried to disrupt Iraq's progress by murdering innocent Iraqis who were exercising their democratic rights," Obama told reporters at the White House, praising Iraqis for going to vote.
"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," he said.
Obama's emphasis on Iraqi security forces bolsters his argument that US troops can leave the country on time, freeing the president to focus more on the war in Afghanistan.
"We will continue with the responsible removal of the United States forces from Iraq," Obama said, repeating that the US combat mission would conclude at the end of August.
"We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, carry out targeted counterterrorism operations with our Iraqi partners and protect our forces and civilians. And by the end of the next year, all US troops will be out of Iraq," he said.
Obama noted Iraq would have difficult days ahead with further violence likely.
"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's the time for every neighbor and nation to respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.