Paul Harris

Bush, however, does not see a civil war; lashes out at critics

New York: United States President George W. Bush on Saturday denied that Iraq was plunging into civil war, just a day after the Pentagon painted a bloody picture of a nation caught in a spiral of increasing violence.

His statement appears to widen the gap between the political message coming from a White House concerned about upcoming mid-term elections and a military establishment fearful of getting caught in another Vietnam.

In his weekly radio address to the nation, Mr. Bush lashed out at critics of the war and portrayed the conflict in Iraq as an integral part of the war on terror. He said the country was not sliding into civil war.

"Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war. They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence" .

At odds with report

That may be true, but the tone of Mr. Bush's speech was deeply at odds with a Pentagon report released late on Friday, which showed Iraqi casualties had soared by more than 50 per cent in recent months. The Pentagon often releases bad news late in the week in order to minimise press coverage and the study certainly made for grim reading.

"Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife," it noted. The report added that civil war was a possibility in Iraq, which seemed to jar with the message from the White House and top Republican politicians. Mr. Bush insisted that the war in Iraq would be won by American and Iraqi armed forces.

"The security of the civilised world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq, so America will not leave until victory is achieved".

Mr. Bush's radio address was a re-hash of a speech he delivered in Salt Lake City last week.

Republican strategists, including Mr. Bush's political guru Karl Rove, believe that focusing on national security will allow them to claw back support in November, because voters tend to favour the Republicans on defence. However, recent polls have shown that support cracking and Democrats have become noticeably more strident in their criticism of the war, in the belief that public opinion is now firmly against it.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006