Obama praises Iraq on election but warns of ‘difficult days’ ahead


President Obama on Thursday congratulated Iraq for completing its first national election since the withdrawal of American troops, but said the country still faced “difficult days” ahead.

"The people of Iraq know better than anyone else the enormous challenges that they face, and yesterday’s turnout demonstrated to the world that they seek to pursue a more stable and peaceful future through the political process," said Obama in a statement.

The president said he was hopeful the vote would “serve to unite the country through the formation of a new government that is supported by all Iraqi communities and that is prepared to advance tangible and implementable programs."

"There will be more difficult days ahead, but the United States will continue to stand with the Iraqi people as partners in their pursuit of a peaceful, unified and prosperous future," Obama added.

Wednesday's vote came off in relative peace, despite threats of violence by extremist groups in the country who said they would target polling sites. 

Officials in Baghdad and Washington were nervous of bloodshed as Iraq continues to grapple with a growing Sunni insurgency, and government officials implemented stringent security controls. More than 750 Iraqis died last month in sectarian violence.

According to multiple media reports, the streets were largely empty in the days leading up to the vote, with government forces imposing a curfew in Baghdad and shutting down airports and border crossings.

According to The New York Times, though, turnout for the vote was 60 percent and violence was largely limited. Near Tikrit, a police officer and two civilians were killed when the policeman attempted to subdue a suicide bomber. Four others were killed in a pair of roadside bombs. 

"With ink-stained thumbs, Iraqi voters sent a powerful rebuke to the violent extremists who have tried to thwart democratic progress and sow discord in Iraq and throughout the region," Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOvernight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach GOP probes put new focus on State Will FISA secrecy doom democracy? MORE said in a statement. "Iraqi citizens stood up to extremist threats, and many acted particularly heroically, including a police officer who gave his own life to shield voters from a suicide bomber near a polling station."