President Bush says Iraqis can expect more violence ahead of next month's planned election, but he says the U.S. military will help ensure that vote takes place as scheduled. Mr. Bush spoke to U.S. Marines Tuesday at a base in California.
President Bush says opponents of democracy in Iraq will continue to challenge the country's transitional government and U.S. troops there ahead of elections planned for January 30. "As election day approaches, we can expect further violence from the terrorists," he said. "You see, the terrorists understand what is at stake. They know they have no future in a free Iraq because free people will never choose their own enslavement."
President Bush says the United States has a vital interest in assuring that Iraq's election takes place. He says the success of that vote will help spread democracy across the Middle East and make the rest of the world more secure because free nations, he says, are peaceful nations that do not export terror.
"The success of democracy in Iraq will also inspire others across the Middle East to defend their own freedom and to expose the terrorists for what they are: violent extremists on the fringe of society with no agenda for the future except tyranny and death. So the terrorists will do all they can to delay and disrupt free elections. And they will fail," he said.
President Bush spoke to U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, which has one of the highest casualty rates in Iraq.
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton helped spearhead the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. President Bush thanked them for their service and their sacrifice. The Defense Department says 200 troops from the camp have died since the start of fighting in March of 2003. "You helped liberate the Iraqi capital, pulled down the statues of the dictator, and pushed north to secure the homeland of Tikrit. You drove Saddam Hussein from his palace into a spider hole. And now he sits in an Iraqi prison awaiting justice. Because of your bravery, because of your skill, America and the world are a safer place," he said.
More than 20,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton are currently serving in Iraq and have been involved in fighting for control of the city of Fallujah, where many are still involved in house-to-house searches for weapons there.
President Bush had lunch with Marines and some of their families at Camp Pendleton. He also awarded a Presidential Unit Citation to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, an elite corps of 1,500 troops formed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy says the president's visit shows the importance he places on keeping spirits high among both the troops and their families.
President Bush says the separation of military families is often more deeply felt during the holidays. He unveiled a new Defense Department website entitled America Supports You to help civilians find new ways to support U.S. troops and their families.