Leading Iraq war opponents France, Germany and Russia have hailed elections in the country as a first step on the road to democracy and have pledged to back U.S. efforts to restore stability.
In a greater than expected turnout, up to 8 million Iraqis cast ballots on Sunday, braving suicide bombs and mortar attacks by insurgents that killed 35 people.
Despite their concerns over the low turnout among minority Sunnis, European Union officials joined Washington on Monday in declaring the poll a success, three weeks before a February 22 summit with President George W. Bush meant to relaunch transatlantic ties.
"This is an initial victory for the Iraqi people and it is a first important step which was vital for the democracy and political process we are hoping for and working on," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told France's Europe 1 radio.
"We are on the right path but that road is still long and risky," he said before EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to study the poll, whose result is due in 10 days.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Berlin still believed it was right to have opposed the war but wanted to look to the future and what it could do to help in Iraq.
"The decision of many Iraqis to go to the polls deserves very great recognition," he told reporters in Brussels.
"The challenge of putting Iraq on a stable democratic footing is one we must all take on together -- within the political limits we have set," he said, reaffirming Germany's refusal to send troops to Iraq.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the election as "a step in the right direction" and told ministers at a government session to work for Iraq's future stability.
But Americans and Europeans are readying a reconciliation they hope will be sealed when Bush visits NATO and the EU next month in the first foreign visit of his second term.
Last week the EU Commission offered to pump a further 200 million euros into the Iraqi economy. The EU also expects to approve by February 22 a plan to train some 700-800 senior Iraqi police officers and magistrates a year.
In return, EU diplomats want to persuade Bush to use U.S. influence over Israel to advance Middle East peace efforts.
Without referring specifically to Washington, a draft of the EU ministers' communique urged the international community to seize the chance for peace following the January 9 election of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
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