WASHINGTON – President Bush said Saturday he is confident a unified Iraqi government will settle sectarian feuds that Iraqi leaders fear could lead to civil war.
“I’m optimistic that the leadership recognizes that sectarian violence will undermine the capacity for them to self-govern,” Bush said after a defense briefing at the White House. “I believe we’ll have a unity government in place that will help move the process forward.”
Bush denounced any moves by Iran or Syria to interfere in Iraq’s effort to build a democracy. The president also said that while Iraq’s security forces need more training, they performed well after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque. The attack led to the deaths of hundreds and pushed the country to the brink of civil war between rival Muslim sects.
“There are some people trying to, obviously, foment sectarian violence – some have called it civil war – but it didn’t work,” Bush said.
He said the U.S. goal is to have Iraqis control more territory than the coalition forces do by the end of the year.
“Secondly, I’m optimistic that the Iraqi security forces performed – in most cases – really well to provide security. All but two provinces, after the blowing up of the mosque, were settled,” Bush said.
Bush’s optimistic assessment came a day after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued a decree to convene parliament on March 19 for the first time since it was elected nearly three months ago. Talabani said he feared civil war if Iraqi politicians could not resolve their differences.
Talks are under way to put together Iraq’s first permanent, post-invasion government with participation by Sunni Arabs, Shiite Muslims and Kurds.
“Amid the daily news of car bombs and kidnappings and brutal killings, I can understand why many of our fellow citizens are now wondering if the entire mission was worth it,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “I strongly believe our country is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power.”
On Monday, Bush plans to give the first in a series of speeches to convince Americans that the United States is on the right path in Iraq. The opening speech will focus on Iraqi security forces.
Only 39 percent of Americans now support the way Bush has handled Iraq, according to the latest AP-Ipsos poll. Nearly four out of five Americans, including 70 percent of Republicans, believe civil war will break out in Iraq, the poll showed.