Iraq: meanwhile in the Matrix…


Richard Moore

     Iraqis in some areas still faced "savage" acts of violence,
     Mr Bush said...




Bush focuses on Iraq improvements

US President George W Bush has marked the third anniversary
of the US-led invasion of Iraq with an upbeat assessment of
the country's prospects.

Iraqis in some areas still faced "savage" acts of violence,
Mr Bush said, but he insisted that insurgents were being
defeated in many areas.

"The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right
decision," Mr Bush told an audience in Cleveland, Ohio.

In Iraq there was sporadic violence and fresh delays over
forming a government.

Three years ago bombs started falling on Baghdad at the
start of a campaign that led to the fall and eventual
capture of former President Saddam Hussein.

In his speech on Monday, Mr Bush spoke at length about the
city of Tal Afar, in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh,
which he said had been effectively liberated from Al-Qaeda

He listed a litany of horrors visited on the city as
insurgents took control during 2003 and 2004, but pointed to
improvements since a joint Iraqi-US operation to root out
insurgents during 2005.

Bush defiant

Mr Bush's speech came as he faced new evidence of falling
domestic support for the continuing war in Iraq.

Opinion polls in the US have continued to indicate weakening
support for the president on Iraq , with a Newsweek survey
last Friday suggesting 65% now disapproved of his policy.

But the president insisted that the US would not pull troops
out of Iraq before achieving stability.

"The US will not abandon Iraq. We will leave Iraq, but when
we do it will be from a position of strength, not weakness,"
he said.

"Americans have never retreated in the face of thugs and
assassins and we will not begin now."

Fresh violence

As Iraqis marked the three-year anniversary there were at
least two fatal roadside bombings.

One killed at least four security guards near the town of
Musayyib, south of Baghdad. The other killed two police
commandos and two other people in the Baghdad neighbourhood
of Karrada.

At least another nine bodies were also found, in the capital
and elsewhere, most showing signs of torture and believed to
be victims of sectarian attacks.

The continuing violence prompted former Iraqi Prime Minister
Iyad Allawi to say at the weekend that Iraq was in the grip
of civil war - a view played down by the US and UK.

     Iraqi civilians killed: 32,600-35,700 on 1 March. Police:
     1,900. Source: Iraq Body Count campaign group

     US soldiers killed: More than 2,300 Other armed forces
     killed: 205 (103 of whom British)

     US forces now in Iraq: 138,000 (UK: 7,800) Iraqi forces:
     235,000 Source: UK defence ministry

     Oil production: 1.8m barrels a day. Pre-war: 2.5m Iraq
     funding needed to 2007: $55bn (UN+US estimates). Pledged:

     Cost of war to US taxpayer: $248bn. Source: National
     Priorities Project based on congressional appropriations

A key potential flashpoint on Monday was Karbala, 110km (68
miles) south-west of Baghdad, where hundreds of thousands of
Shia pilgrims have gathered. They are commemorating the
death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in
the 7th century, which confirmed the Sunni-Shia schism. Shia
pilgrims have been shot at around Karbala over the past
week, with about a dozen deaths reported.

Political parties also remain deadlocked over the formation
of a new government following December's parliamentary

Mr Bush urged a quick resolution to the impasse, calling on
Iraqi leaders to form a government of national unity.

They have suspended negotiations for another week but on
Sunday did agree on a security council to tackle key issues
while talks continue. A major disagreement is over the Shia
majority's choice of Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister.

Mr Jaafari on Monday expressed confidence that a government
would be found to solve Iraq's problems.

"The road ahead will be tough but the Iraqi people have
demonstrated their bravery, determination and resolve," he
wrote in the Washington Post. "The world should not falter
at such a crucial stage in history."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/03/20 18:39:37 GMT


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