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New Iraqi Government Has Reached Turning Point, Says Bush


President Bush says Iraq's new leaders are more determined than ever to succeed, and the United States stands with them. He spoke at the White House after top U.S. officials briefed him on their recent surprise visit to Baghdad.

President Bush says he sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq to assess the situation there and pass on a message to the Iraqi leadership.

"It's very important for these two senior officials to sit down with these new folks and say, you have our support and we want you to succeed," he said.

The president says Rice and Rumsfeld brought back what he called "some interesting impressions." He says they found the new Iraqi leaders to be optimistic people who are full of energy and eager to succeed.

Speaking with the secretary of state on one side and the secretary of defense on the other, Mr. Bush told reporters this government represents a new start for the Iraqi people.

"We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it's a new chapter in our partnership," the president said.

But the president stressed that despite all the political progress of recent days, challenges remain. He said the report he got from Rice and Rumsfeld was not sugar-coated but represented a realistic assessment of the situation in Iraq.

"There are some difficult days ahead because there are still terrorists there who are willing to take innocent life in order to stop the progress of democracy," he said.

Several times in his statement, Mr. Bush spoke of the need for unity in Iraq and the creation of a government that represents all the people.

His comments came as a prominent member of the U.S. Senate suggested that perhaps Iraq should be split into three separate regions - Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni - with a central government in Baghdad. Senator Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in the New York Times newspaper that the idea would be to maintain a unified Iraq by letting each region run its own affairs while the central government takes care of common interests.

The White House called it a plan for "partition" and rejected the notion outright. Spokesman Scott McClellan said partition is an idea no Iraqi leader has proposed and the Iraqi people do not support.