Bush: Iraq Violence Part of al-Qaida Plot
Bush Says Violence in Iraq Not Civil War, but al-Qaida Drive to Foment Division


(Gold9472: He must still be talking to the morons of this country.)


TALLINN, Estonia Nov 28, 2006 (AP)— President Bush said Tuesday an al-Qaida plot to stoke cycles of sectarian revenge in Iraq is to blame for escalating bloodshed, and refused to debate whether the country has fallen into civil war.

"No question it's tough, no question about it," Bush said at a news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. "There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented in my opinion because of the attacks by al-Qaida causing people to seek reprisal."

Bush, who travels to Jordan later in the week for a high-stakes summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said an uptick in violence does not represent a new era in Iraq. The country is reeling from the deadliest week of sectarian fighting since the war began in March 2003.

"We've been in this phase for a while," Bush said.

The president dated the current spike to the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra, which triggered attacks and reprisal counterattacks between the Shiite majority and Sunni minority, and raised fears of civil war.

Bush said he will ask al-Maliki to explain his plan for quelling the violence.

"The Maliki government is going to have to deal with that violence and we want to help them do so," the president said. "It's in our interest that we succeed."

Directly seeking help from Iran and Syria with Iraq, as part of new, aggressive diplomacy throughout the region, is expected to be among the recommendations of a bipartisan panel on Iraq. Led by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., the group is expected to present recommendations to Bush next month.

But Bush repeated his administration's reluctance to talk with two nations it regards as pariah states working to destabilize the Middle East.

Iran, the top U.S. rival in the region, has reached out to Iraq and Syria in recent days an attempt viewed as a bid to assert its role as a powerbroker in Iraq.

The president said Iraq is a sovereign nation, free to meet with its neighbors. "If that's what they think they ought to do, that's fine," he said. "One thing Iraq would like to see is for the Iranians to leave them alone."

The president added that the U.S. will only deal with Iran when they suspend their program of enriching uranium, which could be used in a nuclear weapon arsenal.

"The Iranians and the Syrians should help not destabilize this young democracy," he said.

Iran's state-run television, however, quoted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani as saying "we are in dire need of Iran's help in establishing security and stability in Iraq." The comments came after Talabani met Monday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

Far from reaching out to Iran and Syria, Bush also denounced them for trying to destabilize the fragile, Western-backed government in Lebanon.

"That government is being undermined, in my opinion, by extremist forces encouraged out of Syria and Iran," Bush said. "Why? Because a democracy will be a major defeat for those who articulate extremist points of view."

The New York Times on Monday quoted a senior U.S. intelligence official who said the Iranian-backed Hezbollah had been providing training for the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The anonymous official told the Times that 1,000 to 2,000 Shiite fighters had been trained in Lebanon by Hezbollah, also backed by Syria.

Jordan's King Abdullah, who is hosting al-Maliki's meeting with Bush, has warned that the new year could dawn with three civil wars in the Mideast with one in Iraq added to those already ongoing in Lebanon and between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Bush, dodging a direct answer of whether civil war exists or not, tied the three conflicts together in a different way. He said recent strife in Lebanon and the heated up Israeli-Palestinian dispute are, like Iraq, the result of extremists trying to choke off democratic progress.

"When you see a young democracy beginning to emerge in the Middle East, the extremists try to defeat its emergence," Bush said.

Bush's brief stopover in Estonia, a former Soviet republic with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, was an offering of American gratitude. After lunch Tuesday, Bush headed to neighboring Latvia, another former Soviet republic and anti-terror ally hosting a NATO summit.

Discussions there were to focus on the tens of thousands of alliance troops clashing in Afghanistan with insurgents, particularly in the south where the Taliban is resurgent.

Bush said in Estonia that NATO "members must accept difficult assignments if we expect to be successful." It was an apparent reference to the fact that only a handful of countries primarily Canada, Britain and the Netherlands are doing much of the heavy lifting in the dangerous southern provinces.

They want nations, such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain, operating in more secure northern areas, to reduce restrictions on their forces to give NATO commanders more flexibility to use them where they're most needed.

An issue of high concern in central and eastern European countries is their lack of participation in a U.S. visa waiver program that allows business travelers and tourists to enter the U.S. for months using only a passport. Ilves said it is something his country "constantly has been raising" with the United States.

Bush promised to try to convince Congress to add more countries, like Estonia, to the program by adding new security elements to overcome wariness in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"It's in our nation's interest that people be able to come and visit," the president said.

Bush, the first sitting U.S. president to visit Estonia, was welcomed to this small Baltic country with a daybreak ceremonial welcoming at Kadriorg Palace, the official residence and working office of the president of Estonia.

Meeting Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Bush praised the country for "your economic accomplishment and your contributions to peace and liberty around the world."

The U.S. president also met democracy activists and Estonian soldiers who have served on foreign missions.

Unlike in most of Europe, there is hardly any public criticism here of Bush's administration or the Iraq war. Only a small protest by anarchists had been planned in Tallinn for Bush's visit.