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Bush: Afghanistan, Iraq at Center of War on Terror

Journalists gathered for the NATO summit watch the Bush speech on television.
Journalists gathered for the NATO summit watch the Bush speech on television.

President Bush -- in Latvia for a NATO summit -- called the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan central fronts in a war "against the extremists who desire safe havens and are willing to kill innocents anywhere to achieve their objectives."

The president will travel to Amman, Jordan, Wednesday to meet Jordan's King Abdullah and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

NPR's David Greene, traveling with the president, says that the hardest questions Mr. Bush got Tuesday were on Iraq.


One dominant question was whether the conflict in Iraq has become a civil war. Greene says the president avoided answering the question directly and instead blamed al-Qaida for the ongoing sectarian violence.

The president said that al-Qaida had long sought to set off sectarian fighting and succeeded when a holy Shiite shrine in the city of Samara was bombed in February. Since then, sectarian violence has escalated throughout the country. Just last week in Baghdad a wave of bombings and kidnappings killed more than 200 people in a single day.

Greene also says President Bush seemed to be stressing that Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government must take responsibility for containing the violence. The Bush administration has long argued that a sovereign Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces need to be responsible for securing the country. So far, however, they have proven incapable of stopping the constant escalation of violence that leaves thousands of Iraqis dead each month.

Mr. Bush also addressed whether Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran, should be engaged in helping end the fighting in Iraq. Many analysts say that the two countries are supporting various armed groups in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton -- a Democrat from Indiana -- is expected to recommend that the U.S. engage in direct talks with the two states about Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton report is due next month.


But Green points out that tough Bush administration policies on both Syria and Iran make it difficult for the U.S. to speak directly to either. Mr. Bush again reiterated Iraq's own role and responsibility in the process.

"Iraq is a sovereign nation which is conducting its own foreign policy," he said. "They're having talks with their neighbors. And if that's what they think they ought to do, that's fine. I hope their talks yield results."

The main issue at the NATO conference, and one that the president stressed, is Afghanistan.

There are about 42,000 troops in the country, half of them American. He called for NATO countries to not only send more troops, but also to allow those troops more flexibility.

Many countries have put conditions on how their forces can be used, keeping them out of the heaviest fighting in southern Afghanistan. The U.S., Canada, Britain and the Netherlands have the bulk of the forces in harm's way and want their allies to be willing to engage in the ongoing fighting with a resurgent Taliban.

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