WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike called the Iraqi election a success on Monday, praising Iraqis for having the courage to embrace democracy despite attacks by insurgents.
The next priority, lawmakers said, must be fully training an Iraqi security force so that the country can protect its own fledgling government and U.S. forces ultimately can return home.
"We should salute the courage of Iraqi voters and of American military men and women and now see this mission through to the end, helping to preserve security while training Iraqis to defend themselves," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (search), R-Tenn.
Sen. John Thune (search), R-S.D., agreed: "That ought to be our number one objective. We've taken an important step toward self-government but now there needs to be a step toward self-defense."
Rep. Duncan Hunter (search), R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that while the U.S. can't withdraw troops now, as some Democrats have called for, security responsibilities must be given to Iraq as quickly as possible.
"The more they operate and respond to their own government, the stronger this elected civilian government," Hunter said. But, he added, "creating a strong Iraqi military in which the leadership maintains the obedience of its forces and obeys the civilian government of Iraq is a very difficult challenge."
Rep. Ike Skelton (search) of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on that committee, said the training was going "disappointingly slow," but added that the United States has "no choice but to continue."
As for U.S. troops, Skelton said: "I think there might be some light at the end of the tunnel on bringing a good many of them home," given that Iraqis have made a step toward putting their own government together.