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Bush Backs Iraqi Premier To Improve Security

Bush (right) with al-Maliki in Amman today (epa) PRAGUE, November 30, 2006 -- U.S. President George W. Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki today in Amman, where they stressed the importance of keeping Iraq united, saying any partition of the country would only increase violence there.

The meeting in Amman gave Bush a chance to show support for al-Maliki as security challenges in Baghdad continue to grow. He described al-Maliki as "a strong leader who wants a free and democratic Iraq to succeed. The United States is determined to help him achieve that goal."

Bush said that success in Iraq depends on strengthening the Iraqi security forces. "We agreed on the importance of speeding up of the training of the Iraqi security forces," he said afterward. "Our goal is to ensure that the prime minister has more capable forces under his control so his government can fight the terrorists in the death squads and provide security and stability in his country."
"Our goal is to ensure that the prime minister has more capable forces
under his control so his government can fight the terrorists in the
death squads and provide security and stability in his country."

And the U.S. president said he agreed with al-Maliki that Iraq must remain a single, united country. Al-Maliki "made clear that splitting his country in 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," Bush said.

Mounting U.S. Pressure For Improvement

With those remarks, Bush appeared to signal that his administration's strategy for Iraq remains unchanged for now, despite increasing pressure in Washington to find new options.

A congressionally established committee reviewing the administration's Iraq policy is due to make recommendations to Bush and to Congress on December 6.

Media reports say the bipartisan Iraq Survey Group will recommend a regional conference on stabilizing Iraq that could include talks with Iran and Syria, and will recommend that the U.S. military shift from a combat role to a support role in Iraq.

Is Iraq descending into all-out civil war? (epa)

Al-Maliki said in Amman that his government is ready to cooperate with neighboring states. "Iraq is for Iraqis, and its borders should be secure so that nobody can interfere in our internal affairs," he added.

Difficult Neighbors

But any direct U.S. talks with Iran and Syria over Iraq would require first getting all sides to agree on conditions for them. Bush recently ruled out any talks with Iran unless Tehran first ceased its uranium-enrichment activities, as demanded by the UN.

U.S. officials also accuse Tehran of directly helping fund and arm Shi'ite militia groups in Iraq. And Washington accuses Syria of doing too little to stop the inflow of foreign recruits and funding for insurgent groups.

Still, the stakes for all sides are mounting. Baghdad last week experienced its highest death toll for a single day since the U.S. invasion -- raising concerns that the security situation could worsen if not rapidly brought under control.

The multiple car-bomb attack on November 23 in Baghdad's Shi'ite-populated district of Al-Sadr City, and retaliatory mortar attacks on Sunni districts, killed over 200 people.

Threat Of Civil War

The violence prompted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to warn that Iraq is on the brink of civil war. "I think, given the developments on the ground, unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there," he said. "In fact, we are almost there."

U.S. and Iraqi officials have rejected characterizing the violence as a civil war, but agree on the urgency of controlling it.

Bush vowed today in Amman that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and that the "United States will be in Iraq so long as the [Iraqi] government asks us to be in Iraq. This is a sovereign government."

Bush said both Washington and Baghdad remain committed to creating a "pluralistic society that is politically united and a society in which people are held to account if they break the law, whether those people be criminals, Al-Qaeda, militia, or whoever."

Sectarian Iraq

Sectarian Iraq

Click to enlarge the image.

SUNNI, SHI'A: Iraq is riven along sectarian lines, faults that frequently produce violent clashes and are a constant source of tension. Sectarian concerns drive much of Iraqi politics and are the main threat to the country's fragile security environment.

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.