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Bush's rhetoric on Iraq hard to square with facts

By Calvin Woodward
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush promised a diplomatic offensive to win support for Iraq from Middle Eastern countries that, if anything, have become more hostile to U.S. policy in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's execution.

In doses of rhetoric hard to square with facts in the region, Bush portrayed the ordinary people of the Middle East as being behind U.S. goals in Iraq, in his speech to the nation Wednesday night.

And he declared the need to address Iran's and Syria's support for insurgents, without acknowledging his refusal to engage either country diplomatically, as many U.S. allies and the Iraq Study Group proposed.

The war that toppled Saddam Hussein's Sunni-run regime has rekindled the centuries-old divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims through Middle East, suspicions that have grown stronger since Saddam's Dec. 30 execution.

Bush, who often invoked the Iraqi leader in the past, ignored him in the speech.

In Saudi Arabia, the religious establishment — rooted in the hard-line Wahhabi stream of Sunni Islam — has stepped up its anti-Shiite rhetoric. Last month, about 30 clerics called on Sunnis around the Middle East to support their brethren in Iraq against Shiites and praised the insurgency.

Despite such vitriol, Bush said that from "Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian Territories, millions of ordinary people" are asking: "Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom?"

Also in his speech:

  • Bush declared "al-Qaida is still active in Iraq" and a failed U.S. mission would give such terrorists a safe haven from which to plot attacks against Americans.

    Although few quarrel with that appraisal now, it is also the case that Iraq — contrary to assertions at the time — was not a magnet for al-Qaida before the U.S. invasion.

  • Bush proposed $414 million to double the number of U.S. civilian workers who help coordinate local reconstruction projects. These State Department-led units, dubbed Provincial Reconstruction Teams, are to focus on projects both inside and outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Some will be merged into combat brigades.

    He also proposed $400 million in quick-response funds for the teams to do local reconstruction and rebuilding projects.

    However, the special inspector general for Iraq said in an October report that continued violence and the lack of security seriously impeded reconstruction. W

    The report quoted Iraq's minister of electricity as saying: "Every day I send repair teams, but they can't get to the area; there are too many insurgents ... no one can help."

  • The speech also reflected Bush's evolving qualifications about the U.S. commitment to Iraq, not as ironclad now as when he said just over a year ago, "We will stay until the job is done."

    The president said in his speech that he made it clear to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders "that America's commitment is not open-ended."

    Overall, Bush presented a sobering account of the situation in Iraq.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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