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Bush Picks Historic Site to Tout Iraqi Vote

Bush Picks Historic Site to Tout Iraqi Vote


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By NEDRA PICKLER
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush is using a visit to Philadelphia, birthplace of the U.S. Constitution, as a reminder before the Iraqi elections that the path to American democracy was not always easy either.

Pennsylvania also is the home state of a leading Iraq war critic, Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who planned to speak on Bush's heels and repeat his call to bring the troops home from a fight he says has become too violent and out of control.

Murtha, a hawkish former Marine, has galvanized war critics and been an outspoken counterpoint to Bush's portrayal of success in Iraq. Since Murtha first called for troop withdrawal last month, the president has talked more openly about difficulties in Iraq in a series of speeches leading up to Thursday's election.

Iraqis are preparing to vote under tight security to elect a 275-member parliament that will run the country for the next four years. The election will be the first under the new constitution ratified in an Oct. 15 referendum and will complete the steps toward democratization following the ouster of Saddam Hussein's government.

Monday's Iraq speech is Bush's third, part of a campaign to win support for the mission, with most Americans saying in polls that they disapprove of his handling of the war. The final address in the series is planned for Wednesday in Washington.

Murtha's aides said he committed weeks ago to be in Philadelphia on Monday for a reception with the Chamber of Commerce. But after Bush scheduled the speech in his home state, Murtha added another event -- a news conference to respond to the president.

"I've finally come to the conclusion that we've become the enemy, and that there's no alternative" to pulling troops out, Murtha said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "Every day we're there, we inadvertently kill people. ... That makes enemies."

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken this month indicates Bush's public relations campaign might be working. He improved his job approval rating from 37 percent in November to 42 percent. While still relatively low, that's his highest figure since summer.

"Speeches by the president have been helpful," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a critic of the administration's handling of Iraq policy, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "They have been long overdue."

In his first two speeches, Bush claimed new strength for both Iraq's troops and economy, while acknowledging difficulties caused by continuing violence. His speech Monday focused on the political progress and his determination to help Iraqis build institutions for a lasting democracy, aides said.

The president was arguing that, like the Americans who gathered in Philadelphia for the constitutional convention in 1787, Iraqis are showing their resolve to govern themselves.

Voter turnout will be an important benchmark for success in Iraq, particularly among the disaffected minority Sunni Arabs who have been the foundation of the insurgency. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, predicted Sunday that Sunnis would turn out in large numbers, win 40 to 55 seats in the assembly and become more involved in government.

"Politics will become more important, and our hope and expectation is that violence and use of the military means will become less important," Khalilzad told ABC's "This Week." "Although I do not anticipate that that change will take place very quickly. In the best of circumstances, it will take time and will change incrementally."

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On the Net:

http://www.whitehouse.gov

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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