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Bush Urges Iraqis to Close Ranks Behind Draft Constitution

President Bush is urging Iraqis to embrace the constitutional process, now that a final draft of the charter has been presented to parliament. At the same time, the president acknowledges opposition within the Sunni Arab community, and the strong possibility of an increase in violence in coming months.

President Bush says the Iraqi political process now moves to a new stage, as the people begin their consideration of the constitution drafted by their political leaders.

"It is important that all Iraqis now actively engage in the constitutional process by debating the merits of this important document, and making an informed decision on October 15," he said.

On that date, Iraqis are expected to vote in a constitutional referendum. There is concern that the Sunni Arab community, which largely boycotted January elections, might vote down the draft. If two-thirds of the voters in three Iraqi provinces vote against the constitution, it will fail. Sunni Arabs have a majority in at least four of Iraq's 18 provinces.

President Bush stressed debate and disagreement is all part of the democratic process. He urged all Iraqis to take a close look at the document, and consider its merits carefully before casting ballots.

"We recognize there is a split, amongst the Sunnis, for example, in Iraq," added Mr. Bush. "And I suspect that, when you get down to it, you will find Shi'a who disagree with the constitution, and Shi'a who support the constitution. And, perhaps, there are some Kurds who are concerned about the constitution. In other words, we are watching a political process unfold."

Speaking to reporters at his Texas ranch, the president acknowledged that, as this process moves forward and democracy takes root, insurgents in Iraq are likely to grow more desperate and more vicious.

"We can expect such atrocities to increase in the coming months because the enemy knows that its greatest defeat lies in the expression of free people, and freely enacted laws, and at the ballot box," he said.

Mr. Bush vowed the United States will stand with the Iraqi people, saying it is in America's interest to lay the foundation of peace. He said in drafting their constitution, the Iraqis have again proven they can stand up to any challenge put before them.