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US President Sidesteps ‘Civil War’ Label, Asks Nato Forces For Help In Afghanistan

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November 29th, 2006

US President George W Bush, under pressure to change direction in Iraq, said on Tuesday he will not be persuaded by any calls to withdraw American troops before the country is stabilised.“There’s one thing I’m not going to do: I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete,’’ he said in a speech setting the stage for highstakes meetings with the Iraqi Prime Minister later this week. “We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren.”

The recent Democratic victory in midterm US elections added fuel to the argument from Democrats that US soldiers need to come home. But Bush has resisted that move, even while projecting the need for a different approach.On Tuesday, Bush parried suggestions that Iraq had sunk into civil war, arguing that a recent upsurge in violence was part of a spiral of sectarian unrest that began nine months ago. Last Thursday close to 300 people were killed across Iraq, most of them in a series of bombings in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City neighbourhood.

That provoked retribution killings of dozens of Sunnis which US forces were powerless to stop, heightening worries of all-out civil war.“We have been in this phase for a while,’’ Bush insisted during a stop-over in Estonia on his way to the Latvian capital Riga for a NATO summit, part of a high-stakes visit to Europe and the Middle East. Asked to explain the difference between the situation in Iraq and civil war, Bush chose to highlight the role insurgents were playing in inflaming communal strife. “No question it’s tough. There’s a lot of sectarian violence taking place, happening in my opinion because of these attacks by Al Qaida, causing people to seek reprisals, and we will work with the Maliki government to defeat these elements,’’ Bush told reporters.

The comments came hot on the heels of an acknowledgement on Monday made by Bush’s national security advisor Stephen Hadley that the conflict in Iraq had entered a “new phase’’, characterised by increasing sectarian violence.US media seized on Hadley’s statement and dubbed the new phase outright civil war. In Riga to attend a NATO summit,Bush also enlisted renewed commitments from the NATO allies that have deployed 32,000 troops to Afghanistan. He said NATO commanders must have the resources and flexibility to do the job — an apparent reference to the fact that only a handful of countries — primarily Canada, Britain, the US and the Netherlands — are doing much of the heavy lifting in the dangerous southern provinces against a resurgent Taliban.

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