- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

President Bush said yesterday it is “the job of the world” to make sure the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq are successful and vowed the U.S. military will do “the best job” it can to ensure all Iraqis are able to vote freely for the first time in the nation’s history.

“Our job is to try to provide as much security along with the Iraqis to give people a chance to express their will. And no doubt about it, there are people trying to kill people who want to vote,” Mr. Bush said in the Oval Office. “This is a big moment for the Iraqi people.”

The president said insurgents are sending a message that “if you vote, we’ll kill you” and acknowledged that terrorists in at least four provinces of the war-torn nation are trying to derail the democratic process. His comments came soon after a roadside bomb had killed seven U.S. soldiers in Baghdad; two Marines also were killed in western Iraq as insurgents continued their attacks ahead of the elections.

But Mr. Bush said he was optimistic the elections will be “an incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people. It’s going to be an historic moment.”

The president urged other nations to help make the Jan. 30 elections successful.

“If we step back and allow for tyrannies to exist and people not to be free, the world our children will grow up in will be a hostile world. And this is a big moment for the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush said.

“And if the free world steps back and lets these people have their way, it will be, ‘We can’t stand democracy here,’ and then ‘We can’t stand democracy there,’ and we’ll never address the root causes of terror and hatred — which is frustration caused by tyranny.”

The president said the Iraqi insurgents are like other terrorists who have tried to “impose their will on people.”

“These are people just like the Taliban, just like Osama bin Laden who have this dim vision of the world that says: If you do not agree with us, then you’re of no account. And they’re trying to stop people from voting,” he said.

The president rejected the assessment of Iraq’s future by Brent Scowcroft, who was Mr. Bush’s chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and national security adviser under the elder George Bush. Mr. Scowcroft said in a speech on Thursday that the elections “have the great potential for deepening the conflict,” adding that divisions between the Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim populations likely will be increased.

“Quite the opposite,” Mr. Bush said. “Remember these are people that live in a society where if they didn’t toe the line of the leadership, they would be tortured or killed or maimed. And all of a sudden a new way of life is being introduced into Iraq.”

But several high-profile military leaders, including Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, operations chief of more than 150,000 mostly U.S. troops in Iraq, have warned that anti-American insurgents may be partially successful in disrupting the Jan. 30 elections.

Meanwhile, Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, deputy chief of staff for strategic communications in Iraq, warned that insurgents may be planning “spectacular” attacks to scare voters in the three weeks before Iraq’s landmark elections.

While Gen. Metz said the U.S. military has a contingency plan to bypass Fallujah and other violent enclaves to concentrate on ensuring security in Baghdad and other centers, Mr. Bush said, “I want everybody to vote.

“I understand that parts of the Sunni area are being targeted by these killers. And their message is, ‘If you vote, we’ll kill you.’ But their real message is, is that ‘we can’t stand democracy,’ ” he said.

The four Iraqi provinces considered volatile enough to undermine the elections are al Anbar, Diyala, Ninawa and Salah ad-Din.

Later in the day, during a trip to Clinton Township, Mich., Mr. Bush announced that a U.S. military assessment team led by retired Gen. Gary Luck will help Iraq’s new government develop training programs for security forces and chart a course for the future.

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