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Bush predicts bloody summer in Iraq

US President George W Bush predicts a bloody summer in Iraq for US troops and Iraqi civilians.

world Updated: May 25, 2007 08:29 IST
Steve Holland

US President George W Bush on Thursday predicted a bloody summer in Iraq for US troops and Iraqi civilians, saying he expected insurgents and al Qaeda to step up attacks to try to influence the US debate over how long to stay in Iraq.

The US House of Representatives broke a four-month deadlock with Bush on Thursday night and approved $100 billion in new funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without a timetable for withdrawing combat troops. The bill now goes to the Senate for expected approval this week.

Despite the deployment of tens of thousands of US and Iraqi troops in a major US-led security crackdown, attacks have continued unabated.

On Thursday, a suicide car bomber killed 27 mourners at a funeral in Falluja, west of Baghdad. And, in Baghdad, gunmen shot dead all 11 passengers in a minibus in the mainly Shi'ite Husseiniya district.

Bush said he expected "heavy fighting in the weeks and months" ahead. "What they're going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home," he said.

Asked at a Rose Garden news conference on Thursday how long he believed he could sustain his strategy without significant progress, Bush noted the US commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, was to report back on the effects of the new strategy at the end of the summer.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates later said he also anticipated more violence this summer from what he called "a smart, agile, thinking enemy."

"They know what's going on in this country and I think we should be prepared for them to make a very strong effort to increase the level of violence in July and August. My hope is that anticipating it will allow us to thwart it."

The predictions of more bloodshed came at a time when Americans' assessment of the war has never been worse, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll that said 76 per cent of Americans believe the war is going somewhat or very badly for the United States.

Only 20 per cent said the recent troop increase is making a positive difference, and just 23 per cent approved Bush's handling of the war. His overall job approval was 30 per cent.

PAYING FOR THE WAR, MORE CASUALTIES

The expected approval by Congress of the $ 100 billion war funding bill was a hard-won victory for Bush.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, his voice cracking with emotion, praised the funding bill with no withdrawal deadlines.

"When are we going to stand up and take them on. When are we going to defeat them. If we don't do it now, if we don't have the courage to defeat this enemy, we will long long regret it," he said.

Democrats voted against the war-funding portion of the bill in droves because it did not contain timetables for troop withdrawal. But the bill does for the first time tie Bush's certification on progress in Iraq to US reconstruction aid for the country.

The total cost of the war since 2001 exceeds half a trillion dollars.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Falluja, 30 miles (50 km) west of Baghdad in restive Anbar province. A doctor at a local hospital, Ahmed al-Ani, said 27 were killed and more than 30 wounded. Another hospital source put the death toll at 30.

Police said the suicide car bomber drove into a crowd of mourners as they walked down a Falluja street holding aloft the coffin of Allawi al-Isawi, a local businessman opposed to Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.

The group is waging a campaign of bombings and shootings against Sunni Arab tribal leaders, politicians and others in western Anbar who have formed an alliance against them.

Thousands of US troop reinforcements have been sent to Anbar as part of a stepped-up military initiative seen as a late effort to avert all-out civil war.

In Baghdad, gunmen shot dead all 11 passengers in a minibus in the mainly Shi'ite Husseiniya district. They then planted a bomb among the bodies that exploded when police arrived, killing two people and wounding four, including two policemen.

Tens of thousands of US and Iraqi troops have been deployed in a major security crackdown focused on Baghdad, epicenter of sectarian violence between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis.

The strategy was to give Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government breathing space to reach a political accommodation with disaffected minority Sunnis and achieve political targets demanded by Washington.

The US military confirmed that a body pulled from the Euphrates River south of Baghdad on Wednesday was one of three US soldiers missing since their patrol was ambushed on May 12. Thousands of troops continued to scour farmland for the other two.