No civil war in Iraq, insists Bush - but Pentagon differs
While 68 Iraqis have died in two days, the President talks up military success with an eye on the mid-term elections.
Meanwhile, defence chiefs are ever more fearful of another Vietnam
Sunday September 3, 2006
President Bush yesterday denied that Iraq was plunging into civil war, just a day after the Pentagon painted a bloody picture of a nation caught in a spiral of increasing violence.
His statement appears to widen the gap between the political message coming from a White House concerned about upcoming mid-term elections and a military establishment fearful of getting caught in another Vietnam.
In his weekly radio address to the nation, Bush lashed out at critics of the war and portrayed the conflict in Iraq as an integral part of the war on terror. He said the country was not sliding into civil war.
'Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war. They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence,' he said.
That may be true, but the tone of Bush's speech was deeply at odds with a Pentagon report released late on Friday, which showed Iraqi casualties had soared by more than 50 per cent in recent months. The Pentagon often releases bad news late in the week in order to minimise press coverage and the study certainly made for grim reading.
'Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife,' it noted. The report added that civil war was a possibility in Iraq, which seemed to jar with the message from the White House and top Republican politicians. Bush insisted that the war in Iraq would be won by American and Iraqi armed forces. 'The security of the civilised world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq, so America will not leave until victory is achieved,' he said. He did warn, however, that the struggle would be hard and unlikely to end soon. 'The path to victory will be uphill and uneven, and it will require more patience and sacrifice from our nation,' he said.
Bush has faced increasing criticism in America for his 'stay the course' policy on Iraq. Many polls show a majority of Americans now believe the war was a mistake: even some Republican politicians are breaking ranks and calling for a change in strategy. But in response to the growing unease, Bush and other senior figures, such as Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have launched a PR offensive aimed at convincing Americans the Iraq war is vital for their own safety.
Yesterday Bush also hit back at those who argue for a pullout, or at least a timetable for withdrawal. 'Many of these people are sincere and patriotic, but they could not be more wrong,' he said.
That last remark angered Democrats who accused the President of using the war in Iraq as a way of labelling his opponents as weak in the November elections. 'Our President continues to resort to name-calling and fear-mongering in an attempt to distract from his failure to keep America safe. But sadly Americans have seen this page of the Republican playbook before,' said Democrat Congressman Bennie Thompson.
Bush's radio address was a re-hash of a speech he delivered in Salt Lake City last week. It is likely to be repeated at three other events that Bush has scheduled to make over the next few days as America prepares for the fifth anniversary of 9/11. It also follows on an attempt to evoke the Second World War struggle against fascism as a parallel for the struggle against Islamic terrorism.
Republican strategists, including Bush's political guru Karl Rove, believe that focusing on national security will allow them to claw back support in November, because voters tend to favour the Republicans on defence. However, recent polls have shown that support cracking and Democrats have become noticeably more strident in their criticism of the war, in the belief that public opinion is now firmly against it.
Meanwhile, events in Iraq continued to slide into chaos. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was yesterday holding talks with Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on the worsening security situation. Sistani had recently warned that 'other powers' could take over the country if the government could not impose law and order.
The meeting came after two days of bloodshed in Baghdad in which 64 people were killed and 286 wounded. Most of the victims appeared to be Shias, with blame for the violence focused on Sunni death squads.
Yesterday the bodies of 15 pilgrims from Pakistan and India were found. In other incidents, a car bomb killed three in Baghdad, another killed three civilians and wounded 14 in the town of Mahaweel, and the bodies of three decapitated women were found in Baquba. An attack on Iraqi police in Baquba killed three policemen.
At the same time, a long-awaited ceremony officially to hand over operational control of the Iraqi army to the Iraqi defence ministry was postponed. The delay was due to 'miscommunication' between the Iraqis and the US-led foreign forces in the country. However, the Iraqi government did take over control of Abu Ghraib prison, site of a prisoner abuse scandal by the US troops who had once been based there.