President Bush cautioned on Saturday that Iraq's elections will not put an end to terrorist violence, but insisted the vote will mark the beginning of peace, stability, prosperity and justice for the troubled country.
"Tomorrow's election will add to the momentum of democracy," Mr. Bush said in using his weekly radio address Saturday.
Hours after his radio message aired, Mr. Bush's national security adviser told him that a rocket had hit the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, killing two Americans who worked there and wounding four others. "The terrorists will stop at nothing to try to disrupt this election, yet, in the face of intimidation, the Iraqi people are standing firm," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.
On the radio, Mr. Bush said terrorists will stop at nothing to prevent or disrupt Sunday's voting because so much is at stake. "The terrorists and those who benefited from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein know that free elections will expose the emptiness of their vision for Iraq."
Mr. Bush has a lot at stake, as well. Polls indicate that Americans are growing increasingly anxious about the war, which has cost the lives of more than 1,400 U.S. troops and many thousands of Iraqis.
The United States is pouring more than $1 billion a week into Iraq, forcing Mr. Bush to ask Congress for an additional $80 billion in wartime funds. About 150,000 Americans are serving in Iraq.
Intent on offering its own interpretation of the election, the administration has scheduled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for appearances Sunday morning on television talk shows.
Congressman Ike Skelton, senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, used his party's radio remarks Saturday to raise questions about the administration's strategy in Iraq.
Among other things, Skelton questioned the ability of Iraqi security units to replace U.S. troops soon. He praised the courage of American forces and the Iraqi civilians they protect for their roles in the balloting, but said "we still have a long, long, hard way to go" in helping Iraq create "a viable, representative government."
A State Department task force formed Friday will "follow developments in Iraq and make sure that the U.S. government is responding appropriately," spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Rice also will travel to Israel and the West Bank next month for preliminary discussions that the U.S. officials hope will lead to more vigorous peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr. Bush said the United States would stand firm with Iraq after the election.
"As democracy takes hold in Iraq," he said, "America's mission there will continue. Our military forces, diplomats and civilian personnel will help the newly elected government of Iraq establish security and train Iraqi military police and other forces."
"Terrorist violence will not end with the election," the president said. "Yet the terrorists will fail because the Iraqi people reject their ideology of murder."
Voter turnout could be limited by fear of attack, particularly in areas with large populations of Sunni Arabs. Sunni Arabs were the dominant political force under deposed President Saddam Hussein but comprise only about 20 percent of Iraq's population. Sunni extremists make up the majority of the homegrown insurgents combating U.S. and Iraqi authority.
Mr. Bush has declined to say what percentage of Iraqis would have to vote to make the elections credible. Just the fact that the elections are being held makes them a success, he says.