Bush praises Iraq leader after talks

United States President George Bush praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as a “strong leader” on Thursday and said he agreed with him that any partition of Iraq would only increase violence.

Bush’s show of support for Maliki came after US officials insisted the Iraqi leader was not offended by a critical White House memo and had not snubbed Bush in Amman on Wednesday when the two had been expected to hold an initial meeting.

“Success in Iraq requires a united Iraq,” Bush told a joint news conference with Maliki.

“The prime minister made clear that splitting his country into parts, as some have suggested, is not what the Iraqi people want and that any partition of Iraq would only lead to an increase in sectarian violence. I agree,” Bush said.

He said he had also agreed with Maliki on “the importance of speeding up the training of Iraqi security forces”.

Bush said they had discussed accelerating handing over security authority to Iraqis. He also said US troops would stay as long as the Baghdad government wanted them in Iraq.
The two men held the news conference after a working breakfast and a subsequent meeting without aides.

Their talks coincided with reports that the Iraq Study Group will recommend that the US military shift from combat to a support role in Iraq, and will call for a regional conference that could lead to direct US talks with Iran and Syria, both accused by Washington of fomenting violence in their neighbour.

Redeployment

A source familiar with the deliberations of the independent, bipartisan group said the idea was for US combat forces to pull back to bases in Iraq and in the region over the next year or so. “It’s basically a redeployment,” the source said.

The panel is to present its report to Bush on December 6.

Bush had expected to see Maliki on Wednesday, along with Jordan’s King Abdullah, but was told on the way from Latvia, where he attended a Nato summit, that the Jordanians and Iraqis had decided against a three-way meeting, a US official said.

In the end, Abdullah met both leaders separately.

US officials insisted the change had nothing to do with a memo by White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley that questioned Maliki’s ability to control the turmoil in Iraq.

The memo said “the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into actions”.

The memo, reported by the New York Times, was written after Hadley visited Iraq at the end of October.

Bush is under pressure at home and abroad to change strategy on Iraq, where sectarian violence shows no sign of abating—although the White House refuses to describe it as a civil war.

In Dubai, an Iraqi militant group called on its Sunni Muslim followers in Baghdad to wage holy war against Shi’ite militias in a “battle of destiny”, a statement posted on the internet said on Thursday.

“Baghdad is your [Sunnis] city. Do not leave it for the strangers who intend to expel you; it is a battle of destiny now, to be or not to be,” the Islamic Army in Iraq said in the statement posted on a main Islamist website.

The group, which has claimed several attacks on US troops in the country and the kidnapping of some foreigners, had previously limited calls for jihad against occupation forces in Iraq and did not mention sectarian fighting.—Reuters

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