WASHINGTON – The Jan. 30 election in Iraq will be held on time despite ongoing violence that some Sunni leaders who want to postpone the vote saying will prevent Sunnis from going to the polls, President Bush said Monday from the White House.
Bush spoke in the Oval Office after meeting with Ghazi al-Yawer (search), the interim Iraqi president — an influential leader in Sunni Muslim regions of Iraq where the fiercest battles against insurgents have been waged.
The meeting came after Islamic militants launched an attack on the U.S. consulate in Jiddah, hurling explosives at the heavily guarded compound and forcing their way inside.
Bush thanked Saudi Arabia for quelling the attack and said, "We will find out more about who caused the attacks." He said he was confident Saudi Arabia would share information with the United States.
The president said the United States would do everything it could to make the elections in Iraq as safe as possible. "You can never guarantee 100 percent security," he said.
"The attacks in Saudi Arabia remind us that the terrorists are still on the move," the president said. "They're interested in affecting the will of free countries.
"They want us to leave Saudi Arabia," he said. "They want us to leave Iraq."
Al-Yawer expressed resolve to defeat the insurgents. "Right now we are faced with the armies of darkness," the interim president said. But he said that "victory is not only possible, it is a fact."
The majority of Iraqi's want to hold the Jan. 30 elections, he said. "We in Iraq, the whole Iraqi society, are willing to participate in the elections," he said. "Nobody in Iraq wants to boycott elections except some politicians."
Al-Yawer's visit to the White House is seen as a way to persuade Iraq's political minorities not to boycott the ballot.
"I don't know how many Sunnis are going to be open to the message, but in Middle Eastern terms, it's very symbolic to invite somebody into your house from a community you've been fighting with," said James Phillips, a specialist on Iraq and the Middle East at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
"It shows an openness to some kind of political settlement. It's trying to encourage them (the Sunnis) to include themselves in the power structure — and therefore help weaken the insurgency," Phillips said.
The Sunnis, who represent just one-fifth of the Iraqi population, wielded the power under Saddam Hussein. They fear the election will give Shiite Muslims, with 60 percent of the population, an overpowering grip on the nation. U.S. and Iraqi officials worry that a Sunni boycott could undermine the legitimacy of a new government.
Following his session with al-Yawer, Bush meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II and, following that, with Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade. The agenda likely includes discussion of efforts to restart peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians as well as the Iraqi election.
To bolster security ahead of the voting, the United States announced last week it was increasing its military force in Iraq to the highest level of the war, including the initial invasion in March 2003.
The 12,000-troop increase is to last only until March, but it says much about the strength and resiliency of the insurgency that U.S. military planners failed to foresee when Baghdad was toppled in April 2003.
The 135 American troops who died supporting U.S.-led operations in Iraq in November matches April of this year for the deadliest month since fighting began in March 2003.
Following his session with al-Yawer, Bush met with Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade and Jordan's King Abdullah II.
"I expressed my strong belief that Iraqi elections must go forward on time and I appreciate his majesty listening to my beliefs," Bush told reporters after his meeting with the king. He said the two also talked about prospects for restarting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We have a moment — a window of opportunity — and I intend to work very closely with his majesty to seize that moment for the good of the Palestinian people and the good of the Israelis so that we can achieve peace," Bush said.