- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

President Bush yesterday told the leaders of Iraq that he expects the newly elected transitional government to represent all Iraqis, including the Sunni minority that held power under dictator Saddam Hussein but likely will be outnumbered by Shi’ites in the national assembly.

In a telephone call one day after the nation’s first free elections in a half-century, the president congratulated Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer for the successful national plebiscite, which produced a higher than expected turnout — more than 60 percent of eligible voters.

“The president’s made it clear,” said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. “We congratulate the Iraqi people on yesterday’s election. It was a historic day. The election is a victory for the Iraqi people. It’s a significant step forward for freedom, and it is a defeat for the terrorists and their ideology.”

But Mr. Bush also urged the Iraqi leaders to reach out to all factions in order to bolster the emerging Iraqi democracy movement, a notion on which the leaders agreed.

“The president and both leaders agreed on the need to make sure that the political process is inclusive of all Iraqis, whether or not they voted yesterday,” Mr. McClellan said, noting that the Iraqi prime minister and president pledged to reach out “to all Iraqis as part of their efforts to make sure that the political process is inclusive.”

Also yesterday, Mr. Bush telephoned his top war ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and two of the most vocal opponents of the war, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The White House said the French and German leaders acknowledged that “the election is a victory for the Iraqi people and agreed that democracy in the region had taken a significant step forward.”

“You have strong statements coming out of each of those countries talking about how yesterday’s historic vote was an important step forward for the Iraqi people,” the spokesman said.

Still, Mr. McClellan noted that the United States is continuing to urge all nations to help Iraq establish its fledgling democracy.

“We’ve made it very clear that we continue to encourage all countries to participate in whatever way they can,” he said.

During the five-minute call, Mr. Chirac described Sunday’s elections as “an important step in the political reconstruction of Iraq,” said spokesman Jerome Bonnafont.

Mr. Bush still has not called Russian President Vladimir Putin, another outspoken critic of U.S. policy in Iraq, who yesterday called the elections “a step in the right direction.”

The White House expressed satisfaction with the vote and commended Iraqi security forces for protecting voters, but reiterated the need for U.S. and coalition forces to remain in Iraq to maintain stability.

“We believe that the Iraqi security forces did do a good job in helping to provide a secure environment for the elections to take place,” Mr. McClellan said.

But as for a timetable on when U.S. troops would begin to withdraw from Iraq, the spokesman said the United States must first continue to put into place the components needed for Iraqi independence to succeed.

“There is still much to do to help train and equip those Iraqi security forces,” he said. “We’re going to be there every step of the way to help … so that those forces will eventually be able to provide for their own security and be able to defend Iraq from internal, as well as external threats.”

Although Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, has called for full withdrawal from Iraq by early 2006, the White House spokesman said terrorists and insurgents could exploit any arbitrary timetable.

“The president has previously talked about [how] timetables send the wrong message to the terrorists, because all terrorists have to do is wait and then they can plan and coordinate and prepare attacks around those timetables,” Mr. McClellan said. “The timetable is based on completing the mission, and part of completing the mission is training and equipping Iraqi security forces and making sure that they have the command structure so that they’re fully ready to defend their country.”

Besides the calls to Iraqi and European leaders yesterday, Mr. Bush also called U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whom he thanked “for the important contribution of the United Nations in assisting the Iraqis as they held this historic election.”

“And the secretary-general emphasized that the U.N. was prepared to continue its support to the Iraqi people, particularly in providing assistance to their efforts to draft a new constitution and their efforts to reach out to all parties to participate in the political process going forward,” Mr. McClellan said.

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