Bush: 'Stakes are clear' in Iraqi elections
CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday a recent audiotaped message believed to be from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden highlights what is at stake in the upcoming Iraqi elections.
"The stakes are clear in this upcoming election: the difference between the ability for individuals to express themselves and the willingness of an individual to try to impose his dark vision of the world on the people of Iraq and elsewhere," Bush told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "It's very important that these elections proceed."
On Monday, the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera aired an audiotape purported to be from bin Laden, in which he called on Iraqis to boycott the scheduled January 30 elections to chose a 275-member transitional national assembly.
There have been calls to delay the election because of the ongoing insurgency, but Bush has insisted the balloting be held as scheduled.
Bush said bin Laden's vision stands in stark contrast to the vision of the vast majority of Iraqis who support freedom of expression and the right to vote.
"His vision of the world is where people don't participate in democracy," Bush said. "His vision of the world is where people kill innocent lives in order to affect their behavior and affect their way of living. His vision of the world is one in which there is no freedom of expression, freedom of religion and or freedom of conscience."
The bin Laden tape also voiced praise for the work of the terror group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which has claimed responsibility for several attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops and the kidnappings and beheadings of several Western hostages.
The CIA said a technical analysis gave "moderate confidence" that the voice on the tape is that of bin Laden, a U.S. official said.
Bin Laden also called al-Zarqawi the "prince of al Qaeda in Iraq."
Bush, who is on vacation in Texas, said the most important task to be tackled ahead of the election is "how best to provide the security necessary for people to feel comfortable in voting."