Bush keeps up offensive on Iraq despite Pentagon report showing security deteriorating

Saturday, September 2nd 2006, 1:09 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush on Saturday kept up his pre-election offensive on Iraq despite a new Pentagon report describing a deteriorating security situation there.

Initial results from a new U.S.-Iraqi campaign to improve the security situation in Baghdad are encouraging, Bush said, and insurgents have failed to drive Iraq into full-blown civil war.

``Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war,'' Bush said in his weekly radio address. ``They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, while the overwhelming majority want peace and a normal life in a unified country.''

The president acknowledged ``a bloody campaign of sectarian violence'' and the ``difficult and dangerous'' work of trying to end it.

On Friday, however, the Pentagon reported that death squads increasingly targeting mainly Iraqi civilians heighten the risk of civil war. The report, the latest in a series required by Congress, said the Sunni-led insurgency ``remains potent and viable.''

``Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months,'' the report said.

A growing number of members of Congress _ including a few in the president's own party _ are calling for either a shift in the Bush administration's Iraq strategy or a timetable for beginning a substantial withdrawal of American forces.

With midterm elections for control of Congress looming, Bush is using a series of speeches to build support for the war in Iraq, casting Democratic opponents of the war as weak on national defense and battling terrorism.

``Here at home, some politicians say that our best option is to pull out of Iraq, regardless of the situation on the ground,'' Bush said. ``They could not be more wrong.''

Bush, repeating nearly word for word the message of a recent speech in Salt Lake City, added, ``The security of the civilized 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.''

Democrats are not backing down in their criticism of the war, and they vow not to allow Republicans to win a political edge, as they did in making gains in 2002 and with Bush's re-election victory two years ago.

``The war in Iraq is the wrong war, a reality that no amount of White House rhetoric can distort,'' House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday. ``It has strained our military, has crippled our ability to prosecute the war on terrorism, and has dangerously limited our ability to respond to real challenges to our national security around the world.''

The White House launched its latest offensive Thursday with Bush's address before an American Legion convention and is to culminate the push Sept. 19 with remarks by the president before the U.N. General Assembly.

The next speech is set for Tuesday, when the White House is bringing representatives from countries that have suffered terrorist attacks to populate the audience and emphasize the global nature of the enemy.

Bush often ticks off a list of recent attacks to demonstrate that the world should be united against Islamic militants who share a purpose, if not a common network. He often says various factions of terrorists _ such as Sunnis who swear allegiance to al-Qaida, Shiites who support groups such as Hezbollah, and ``homegrown'' terrorists with local grievances _ belong under the same umbrella, even though many terrorism experts disagree.

The president plans to expand on this description before the Military Officers Association of America, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. Bush will describe how Islamic militants think, what they have said about their aims and why the world should take them seriously, Perino said.

In Iraq on Saturday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to discuss the worsening security situation. The meeting came two days after a barrage of coordinated attacks across mainly Shiite eastern Baghdad killed at least 64 people and wounded 286.

The government promised Friday to expand soon the security crackdown in Baghdad to Shiite militia strongholds in the eastern part of the city.

In July, al-Sistani was credited with restraining the Shiite community from widespread retaliation against minority Sunnis following horrific attacks on Shiite civilians.