Asia sees Iraq vote as step forward
Asian leaders on Monday called the strong turnout in the Iraqi election a major step forward after Saddam Hussein's rule, but some feared the vote could spell more violence and sectarian tensions in a country already torn by insurgency.
Australia, Japan and South Korea, US allies which have deployed troops in Iraq, hailed Sunday's vote as a dawning of democracy, but China and Malaysia saw the election bloodshed as a sign of things to come unless the United States set a timetable to withdraw.
Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-populated country which has strongly criticised US policy in Iraq, said it was "encouraged" by the election.
Voters' "active participation, despite the very difficult security situation, reflects a commendable determination to seize their own destiny in restoring their sovereignty and in establishing a democratic Iraq," foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who triumphed in his own country's historic election in October, called the vote "an important step on the path of achieving stability, democracy and prosperity for our Iraqi brothers and sisters".
With Iraq estimating between 60 and 75 per cent of the 14 million eligible voters had turned out, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said anything over 50 per cent would be "a victory of epic proportions for the cause of democracy."