updated 12/29/2004 12:51:53 PM ET 2004-12-29T17:51:53

President Bush on Wednesday denounced Osama bin Laden’s call to boycott the Iraqi elections, saying that the balloting marks a crossroads for Iraq.

“The stakes are clear in this upcoming election,” Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch. “It’s the difference between the ability for individuals to express themselves and the willingness of an individual to try to impose his dark vision on the world, on the people of Iraq and elsewhere. It’s very important that these elections proceed.”

In an audiotape broadcast Monday, bin Laden called for a boycott of the election and said the Iraqi vote — for a national assembly to write a constitution — is being held under an interim constitution “imposed by the American occupation” and “infidel” because it did not rely solely on Islamic law.

“Therefore everyone who participates in this election will be considered infidels,” bin Laden said.

The tape surfaced the same day the largest Sunni Muslim political party that had planned to take part announced its withdrawal, saying security was worsening and Iraqis did not understand the political process well enough to vote.

Bush: Iraqis oppose bin Laden's vision
Bush said bin Laden’s vision stands in stark contrast to one viewed by a vast majority of Iraqis — that freedom of expression and the right to vote should prevail in Iraq.

“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.”

The president said he talked on Tuesday with the president of the interim Iraqi government, Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, who expressed concern about security in Mosul but said most people in Iraq — Sunni and Shia — want to cast ballots.

“The task at hand is to provide as much security as possible for the election officials, as well as for the people inside cities like Mosul, to encourage them to express their will,” Bush told reporters at an airplane hangar at his ranch where he appeared to express personally his sorrow for the deadly earthquake and tidal waves in Asia.

Complaints of inadequate armament
Responding to complaints that U.S. troops are not adequately armed, Bush said his administration has stepped up the production of armored Humvees. He said other vehicles being used in the war that require different armament will be better armed by midsummer 2005.

“What I know is that the Defense Department is working expeditiously with private contractors and with our military to get these vehicles armed up,” he said.

Asked about his New Year’s Eve plans, Bush responded, “Early to bed.”

The president wouldn’t say whether he had New Year’s resolutions, but he said he’d already offered a hint about one. He was referring to a comment he made on Dec. 11 after completing a physical at National Naval Medical Center outside Washington when he bemoaned the fact that his weight had increased to nearly 200 pounds from 194 about 17 months ago.

“My waistline,” Bush said as he walked out of the hangar and got in his white pickup truck with his dog Barney.

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