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President Bush Hails Iraqi Referendum Results

President Bush says official results from Iraq's referendum approving the country's new constitution are the latest sign of progress in Iraq's embrace of democracy.

President Bush says America's involvement in Iraq is central to the war on terror, and that the effort in Iraq is bearing fruit. Mr. Bush hailed official results released Tuesday showing 78-percent of Iraqis voted in favor of the country's new constitution.

"Ten days ago millions of Iraqis turned out to vote on a constitution that guarantees fundamental freedoms and lays the foundation for lasting democracy," said Mr. Bush. "And today the Iraqi elections commission certified the passage of the constitution. Many more Sunnis participated in this vote than in January's historic elections, and the level of violence was dramatically lower. With their courageous vote the Iraqi people have once again proved their determination to build a democracy united against extremism and violence."

Mr. Bush was speaking to a gathering of spouses of U.S. service members at an Air Force base outside Washington.

Mr. Bush acknowledged hardships faced by the families of American troops sent to war. But he said that the United States faces a determined, murderous enemy in Iraq and elsewhere. He said terrorists would only be emboldened by a U.S. retreat from the battlefield, and that there can be no peace until absolute victory is achieved.

The president said the spread of democracy is vital to the battle against terrorism, and that Iraq is proving to be fertile ground for democratic participation and representative government.

"The elected leaders of Iraq are proving to be strong and steadfast," he added. "By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress: from tyranny to liberation to national elections to the ratification of a constitution in the space of two and a half years."

President Bush said Iraq's democratic progress would be imperiled by a premature U.S. withdrawal from the country. He said terrorists are hoping for a repeat of America's retreat from Vietnam in the 1970s, Beirut in 1983, and Somalia in 1993, believing that if they inflict enough pain on U.S. forces, America's will to persevere will crumble. Mr. Bush said it is essential that the United States prove the terrorists wrong.

But some U.S. legislators are contesting the president's reasoning. Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold has called for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by year's end.

"Right now we are making the insurgency stronger with our apparently indefinite presence in Iraq, and our failure to articulate a timetable for military withdrawal," said Mr. Feingold. "We also know our commitment of resources -- money, troops, time -- to Iraq is detracting from our ability to focus on our most pressing national security goals, and stretching our military budget to the breaking point."

Recent public opinion polls show Americans increasingly concerned and pessimistic about U.S. efforts in Iraq, but divided on whether troops should be withdrawn.