Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Bush vows troops will remain in Iraq until the job is done

NOT FOR DISCUSSION The US president refused to debate with the media whether there was civil war in Iraq as he prepared for talks with the Iraqi PM

AP , RIGA

Under intense pressure to change course, US President George W. Bush rejected suggestions Iraq has fallen into civil war and vowed not to pull US troops out "until the mission is complete."

At the opening of a NATO summit on Tuesday, Bush also urged allies to increase their forces in Afghanistan in order to confront a strengthening Taliban insurgency.

On the eve of his visit to Jordan for meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush portrayed the battles in both Afghanistan and Iraq as central fronts in a war "against the extremists who desire safe havens and are willing to kill innocents anywhere to achieve their objectives."

The stakes in Iraq are huge for Bush. His war policies were repudiated in US midterm elections that handed control of the US Congress to Democrats. A bipartisan blue-ribbon panel is about to issue a report proposing changes in the administration's approach in Iraq. And al-Maliki's government itself sometimes seems to be at cross purposes with Washington.

Bush set the stage for the Jordan talks with a speech at the NATO summit here and at an earlier news conference in neighboring Estonia. Bush said he was flexible and eager to hear al-Maliki's ideas on how to ease the violence.

"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," Bush declared in his speech.

There are about 140,000 US forces in Iraq.

Earlier, speaking with reporters in Tallinn during a joint news conference with Estonia's president, Bush would not debate whether Iraq had fallen into civil war and blamed the increasing bloodshed on a pattern of sectarian violence that he said was set in motion last winter by al-Qaeda followers.

"I'm going to bring this subject up, of course, with Prime Minister Maliki," Bush said.

"My questions to him will be: What do you need to do to succeed? What is your strategy in dealing with the sectarian violence?" he said.

Bush said he realized that "no question it's dangerous there, and violent. And the Maliki government is going to have to deal with that violence, and we want to help them do so."

Bush has been coming under increasing pressure to reach out more to other countries, particularly to Syria and Iran to help with a solution in Iraq.

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