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Bush Urges Iraqis To Vote

President Bush is calling on Iraqis to "defy these terrorists" and vote in upcoming national elections.

Despite unrelenting violence, Mr. Bush said he believes Sunday's elections will be "a grand moment" for those who believe in freedom.

"We anticipate a lot of Iraqis will vote. Clearly, there are some who are intimidated," Mr. Bush said Wednesday at a White House news conference. "I urge people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists."

The president's remarks came on the deadliest day for U.S. forces since they invaded Iraq 22 months ago. More than 30 people, all believed to be Marines, were killed Wednesday when a U.S. military transport helicopter crashed in bad weather in Iraq's western desert. In addition, insurgents killed four American troops in an ambush and carried out a flurry of other attacks.

"The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. It is the long-term objective that is vital — that is to spread freedom," the president said.

He lashed out at critics who say Iraq has become too costly and deadly, suggesting that such second-guessing could hurt the U.S. mission. The administration plans to seek $80 billion to pay for war costs, bringing the total since the Sept. 11 attacks to more than $300 billion.

"I think the Iraqi people are wondering whether or not this nation has the will necessary to stand with them as democracy evolves," Mr. Bush said. "The enemy would like nothing more than the United States to precipitously pull out and withdraw before the Iraqis are prepared to defend themselves."

Undeterred, Mr. Bush said he is leading the nation toward an honorable goal in Iraq and across the world. "I firmly planted the flag of liberty," he said.

Conducting the 18th full-blown news conference of his presidency, the first of his second term, Mr. Bush touched on a wide spectrum of topics, including his proposal to overhaul Social Security, the budget deficit, shaky U.S. relations with allies and Democratic complaints about his top Cabinet picks.

Mr. Bush spoke as the Senate prepared to confirm his nomination of Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, one of the architects of his Iraq policy. "She is going to make a wonderful secretary of state," he said.

Mr. Bush said he was looking forward to "leading the Congress'' on Social Security, where he has called for legislation that will extend the program's financial stability while including an option for personal accounts for younger workers.

He acknowledged that some Republicans are nervous about dealing with the issue, long known as the third rail of American politics. But, he said, "Our job is to confront issues and not pass them on."

He also renewed his pledge to oppose any increase in payroll taxes, which fund the Social Security program.

Mr. Bush was asked if he would condemn a human rights abuse by the Jordanian government, a U.S. ally, which arrested a man and charged him with slander after he delivered a lecture called "Why We Boycott America." Mr. Bush said he was unaware of the case, but urged King Abdullah II to "make sure that democracy continues to advance in Jordan."

"As I said in my speech, not every nation is going to immediately adopt America's vision of democracy and I fully understand that," he said, referring to his inaugural address last Thursday. "But we expect nations to adopt the values inherent in a democracy, which is human rights and human dignity, that every person ought to have a voice. And his majesty is making progress toward that goal."

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