President Bush says Iraq's nationwide constitutional referendum is a positive step on the path toward democracy.
With vote counting well underway in Iraq, President Bush says Iraqis have reason to be proud: "On behalf of the American people, I would like to congratulate the people of Iraq for the successful completion of a vote on the draft constitution."
He says participation was up from the January elections for a provisional Iraqi assembly, particularly among Sunnis. At the same time, he notes, the level of violence was down: "This is a very positive day for the Iraqis, and, as well, for world peace. Democracies are peaceful countries."
Speaking to reporters as he returned to the White House from a weekend at his Camp David retreat, the president once again linked progress in Iraq to the war on terror. He said the al-Qaida terrorist network and its allies seek a foothold in Iraq. And he stressed the movement toward democracy contrasts with their strategy and philosophy.
Mr. Bush said, "We believe, and the Iraqis believe, the best way forward is through the democratic process. Al-Qaida wants to use their violent ways to stop the march of democracy, because democracy is the exact opposite of what they believe is right."
Mr. Bush did not speculate on the outcome of the referendum, and whether the constitution would be adopted. Instead, he focused on the election process itself, saying the Iraqi people deserve thanks for, in his words, doing what is right.
The stakes for the Bush administration in this referendum were high. Public support for the military mission in Iraq has declined in the United States, as the death toll of American troops has risen. This vote on a draft constitution was seen by the White House as a vivid reminder to the public that progress is being made in Iraq, and the costs of continued involvement are justified.