Bush praises Iraqi leaders for resisting threats
WASHINGTON, Apr 29 (Reuters) US President George W Bush praised Iraqi politicians today for standing firm against videotaped threats by al Qaeda's leader in Iraq as they work to forge a unity government.
"The terrorists clearly recognise the threat that the new unity government poses to their dark plans for Iraq and the broader West Asia," Bush said in his weekly radio address, which was prerecorded.It was his first public comment on Abu Musab Zarqawi's message, posted on the Internet yesterday.
The message from Zarqawi, who had been written off by some Iraqi leaders, came two days after an audio tape from al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. In a new video today, al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said hundreds of suicide bombers had "broken America's back" in three years of war in Iraq.
Bush said "desperate acts of violence" in Iraq, including the assassination on Thursday of the sister of a newly appointed vice president, were meant to derail creation of a cabinet embracing the country's major ethnic and religious factions.
"The new leaders of Iraq are showing great courage in the face of terrorist threats," Bush said. "And I have told them they can count on America." Bush has struggled to defend his Iraq policy and pull up approval ratings that have hit new lows amid US public disenchantment with the war. He again warned Americans: "There will more tough fighting ... and more days of sacrifice." But he said a unity government would mark "the beginning of a new chapter in America's involvement" in Iraq three years after a US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
"As Iraqis continue to make progress toward a democracy that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself, more of our troops can come home with the honor they have earned," Bush said.
He has refused to set a timetable for withdrawing America's 133,000 troops.
SUPPORT FOR MALIKI Bush spoke after US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Baghdad to show support for new Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki.
Maliki, a Shi'ite leader, is forming a broad government Washington hopes will end sectarian strife that has raised the specter of civil war, and make it possible to draw down US forces. He has said he hopes to pick his cabinet by next week.
Citing the challenge posed by a Sunni-led insurgency, Bush said: "This week the terrorist Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, released a video in which he denounced the new government and promised further acts of terrorist violence." In his rare video appearance, the Jordanian-born Zarqawi called the United States the "crusader enemy," branded Baghdad authorities "apostates" and insisted America's military power would not prevail.
Zarqawi, whose group has claimed responsibility for many major attacks in Iraq as well as beheadings of foreign hostages, has a 25 million US dollars bounty on his head.
Democracy in Iraq would be a "double defeat" for insurgents, Bush said.
"It will deny the terrorists their immediate aim of turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban, a safe haven where they can plot ... more attacks," he said. He added it would also show the West Asia's future "belongs to freedom." Bush said Iraq leaders had agreed the new government must continue building up security forces and rein in militias.
REUTERS PG RN2020