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Bush Expresses Confidence in Iraqis, Elections

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2005 – President Bush told Al Arabiya Television that he has confidence in the Iraqi people and a hope they will defy terrorist threats regarding national elections Jan. 30.

"I want to express my appreciation for the courageous Iraqis who are willing to step forth and promote democracy," he said in a Jan. 26 interview with the Arab satellite news channel. "And (I) urge all the citizens in Iraq to vote and to show the terrorists they cannot stop the march of freedom."

Bush called the elections a historic opportunity for Iraq and said he knows "thousands and thousands of Iraqis want to vote."

The president said he has been getting positive input from the Shiite population regarding who should participate in the writing of the Iraqi constitution.

Shia leaders have expressed their view that the new government must be inclusive in order for Iraq to obtain its ultimate objective of a free and stable society. Also, the Shia leadership has acknowledged that there must be a respect for minority rights, Bush said.

"To me, those are very healthy, important comments that are being made by Shia leaders," the president said. "And it is an understanding that a free society is one which honors the voices of all."

Bush also offered assurance that the United States would complete the mission and come home as soon as possible. But the election is not the end of the mission, he noted.

"The mission is to train Iraqi soldiers, to give Iraqis the tools and the command structure necessary to be able to fight off the few who want to stop the aspirations of the many," he said. "It's important for the Iraqi citizens to know that their own citizens are out defending their freedom."

That mission is progressing, Bush said, noting that about 120,000 Iraqis have been trained for various enforcement groups. He pointed out that some are very strong and capable, and more work remains to be done.

In dispelling the idea of the United States as occupier, the president said that the United States and its troops are there only to help the Iraqis. The U.S. military's continued presence in Iraq will be a decision for the new Iraqi government to make, he said.

"A government elected by the people will be making the decisions as how to best secure their country, what kind of help they need to make sure their democracy is able to flourish," Bush said. "And I think the free world will be willing to provide that help. But these are sovereign decisions made by an elected government."

Bush said messages have been issued to both Iran and Syria: Iran should not be meddling or trying to unduly influence the result of the elections. And Syrians have been asked to do everything the can to prevent those whose intent is to destabilize Iraq from succeeding.

"I, again, want to reiterate what I said," Bush said. "The Iraqis I have heard from have this great desire for freedom. And I hope they're willing to exercise their right and defy the terrorists."

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