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Bush determined to see Iraqis vote January 30
Updated: 2004-12-06 00:06

WASHINGTON - President Bush, on a day of new violence in the Middle East, expressed determination to see Iraq hold elections on Jan. 30 and said they would show that terrorists cannot stop the march of democracy.

Meeting Ghazi al-Yawer, the interim Iraqi president, Bush said that a free society in Iraq "will be a major defeat for the terrorists." If terrorists were allowed to stop the election, it would "send a wrong signal to the world and send a wrong signal to the Iraqi people themselves."

Al-Yawer an influential leader in Sunni Muslim regions of Iraq where the fiercest battles against insurgents have been waged wants Iraq's Jan. 30 election held on time, but other Sunni leaders want it to be postponed, saying the ongoing violence in these areas would keep people from voting.

"The attacks in Saudi Arabia remind us that the terrorists are still on the move," Bush said. "They're interested in affecting the will of free countries. They want us to leave Saudi Arabia. They want us to leave Iraq.

"They want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly, kill innocent people," Bush said. "That's why these elections in Iraq are very important."

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.

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.

Last week, al-Yawer told reporters in Baghdad that the security situation in some areas of Iraq remained "very bad."

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