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Bush Hails Iraqi Vote

President Bush says elections for a new Iraqi assembly are an important milestone on the country's road to democracy. But Mr. Bush says violence there will likely continue following the vote while Iraqi politicians try to form a new government.

President Bush says the vote is another sign of Iraq's progress toward a stable future and a vital part of a broader U.S. strategy to fight terrorism.

"We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom," he said. "Most of the focus now is on this week's elections, and rightly so. Iraqis will go to the polls to choose a government that will be the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world."

The president expects a higher Sunni turnout in this election, which he says will make Iraqi democracy more inclusive and further marginalize extremists.

This was the fourth in a series of speeches the president has made before the vote as part of a campaign to refocus Americans' attention on what he says is progress in Iraq's security, politics, and economy.

White House officials say this concluding speech was meant to pull all those ideas together while also offering a look at the way forward.

Because many electoral results are not expected until next month, Mr. Bush says there are days of uncertainty ahead as Iraqi politicians work to form a new government. He said that uncertainty will require patience on the part of Iraqis and Americans in the face of what he calls a determined enemy.

"These enemies are not going to give up because of a successful election," the president added. "They know that as democracy takes root in Iraq their hateful ideology will suffer a devastating blow, so we can expect violence to continue."

Mr. Bush has seen some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency during the past few months, in part because of continuing violence in Iraq.

Nearly 60 percent of those polled in the latest CNN/USA Today survey do not believe the president has a plan for success in Iraq. That is about what polls showed when the president began this series of speeches last month.

Mr. McClellan says the White House is pleased with how Americans have responded to the speeches on Iraq and attributes some of the low poll numbers to what he says are Congressional Democrats misrepresenting the president's plan.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says the burden for success in Iraq does not rest solely on voters there, but on President Bush as well. Speaking before the president's remarks, Senator Reid said Mr. Bush has still not focused on what needs to be done and has failed to give the American people a clear idea of what lies ahead.

"He continues to say, 'Stay the course.' He continues to say, 'We are winning.' But based on his three speeches, if this were a baseball game, he would already be struck out," he said. "In order to support the mission, the American people need to know the remaining political, economic and military benchmarks, and a reasonable schedule for achieving them."

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says it is deeply irresponsible for Democrats to say the president lacks a strategy for success in Iraq. The president opposes a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, because he says that would embolden the enemy, undermine the country's political future, weaken U.S. forces, and show America to be a weak and unreliable ally.