WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) cautioned that Iraq's elections will not put an end to terrorist violence. But he said the vote will mark the beginning of peace, stability, prosperity and justice for the troubled country.
"Tomorrow's election will add to the momentum of democracy," Bush said in using his weekly radio address Saturday to describe his long-term goal for the United States to help rid the world of tyranny.
He said terrorists will stop at nothing to prevent or disrupt Sunday's voting because so much is at stake. "The terrorists and those who benefited from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein (search) know that free elections will expose the emptiness of their vision for Iraq."
Bush has a lot at stake, as well. Polls indicate that Americans are growing increasingly anxious about the war, which has cost the lives of more than 1,400 U.S. troops and many thousands of Iraqis.
The United States is pouring more than $1 billion a week into Iraq, forcing Bush to ask Congress for an additional $80 billion in wartime funds. About 150,000 Americans are serving in Iraq.
Intent on offering its own interpretation of the election, the administration has scheduled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) for appearances Sunday morning on television talk shows.
Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, used his party's radio remarks Saturday to raise questions about the administration's strategy in Iraq.
Among other things, Skelton questioned the ability of Iraqi security units to replace U.S. troops soon. He praised the courage of American forces and the Iraqi civilians they protect for their roles in the balloting, but said "we still have a long, long, hard way to go" in helping Iraq create "a viable, representative government."
A State Department task force formed Friday will "follow developments in Iraq and make sure that the U.S. government is responding appropriately," spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Rice also will travel to Israel and the West Bank next month for preliminary discussions that the U.S. officials hope will lead to more vigorous peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Bush said the United States would stand firm with Iraq after the election.
"As democracy takes hold in Iraq," he said, "America's mission there will continue. Our military forces, diplomats and civilian personnel will help the newly elected government of Iraq establish security and train Iraqi military police and other forces.
"Terrorist violence will not end with the election," the president said. "Yet the terrorists will fail because the Iraqi people reject their ideology of murder."
Voter turnout could be limited by fear of attack, particularly in areas with large populations of Sunni Arabs. Sunni Arabs were the dominant political force under deposed President Saddam Hussein but comprise only about 20 percent of Iraq's population. Sunni extremists make up the majority of the homegrown insurgents combating U.S. and Iraqi authority.
Bush has declined to say what percentage of Iraqis would have to vote to make the elections credible. Just the fact that the elections are being held makes them a success, he says.
In his radio address, Bush said the voting was important not only for Iraqis but for Americans as well. "Our nation has always been more secure when freedom is on the march," he said. "As hope and freedom spread, the appeal of terror and hate will fade."
Bush praised Iraqis for braving violence, intimidation and assassination. "They know what democracy will mean for their country: a future of peace, stability, prosperity and justice for themselves and for their children," he said.
He said Iraq was the latest in a string of countries to help spread democracy.
"Over the past year, the world has seen successful elections in Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Georgia, Ukraine and the Palestinian territories," the president said.
"In countries across the broader Middle East, from Morocco to Bahrain, governments are enacting new reforms and increasing participation for their people."