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Bush, Berlusconi Discuss Iraq


President Bush says Iraq must choose between unity and chaos following sectarian violence that has killed hundreds of people since last week's bombing of a Shi'ite shrine. Mr. Bush spoke following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who says he will withdraw all Italian troops from Iraq by the end of the year.

President Bush says terrorists are sowing the seeds of sectarian violence in Iraq in hopes of destroying chances for a government of national unity.

"Now the people of Iraq and their leaders must make a choice. The choice is chaos or unity. The choice is a free society or a society dictated by evil people who will kill innocents," he said.

The president again condemned the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra which set-off a wave of reprisal killings. Mr. Bush condemned attacks on all holy sites, saying all people should be able to worship freely.

Amid concerns that sectarian violence is drawing Iraq closer to civil war, President Bush says he has spoken to seven Iraqi political leaders over the past few days and all understand the seriousness of the moment.

He says those politicians have made the choice to work toward a unity government in defiance of the terrorists much as he says Iraqi civilians made the choice for democracy by voting in December elections.

The president spoke to reporters following an Oval Office meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi, whom he thanked for Italy's support in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The prime minister said he will follow through with plans to withdraw all Italian troops from Iraq over the next 10 months.

"We have announced a plan to progressively withdrawal our troops which has to be completed by the end of this year," said Mr. Berlusconi. "And this plan has been agreed upon also together with our allies and with the Iraqi government."

Prime Minister Berlusconi says it is possible to withdraw the 3,000 troops because they have helped train more than 10,000 Iraqis to handle their own security.

The prime minister is in a tough campaign for re-election in voting scheduled for April. President Bush refused to be drawn into specific questions of Italian politics, but said his spirits are always raised by Mr. Berlusconi because he is a positive, optimistic person and a strong leader who has brought stability to Italy's government.

Following the meeting, President Bush left for a five-day trip to India and Pakistan.

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