President Bush has personally assured Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of his continuing support, despite an increase in violence in Iraq during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
At a time when violence is raging in Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki sought new assurances from President Bush.
During a 15-minute telephone call originated by the president, the prime minister said he was concerned about rumors circulating in Iraq that the United States had set a two-month deadline for the Iraqi government to quell the bloodshed.
White House Spokesman Tony Snow told reporters Mr. Maliki said those rumors, if left unchecked, could damage his ability to govern.
"The prime minister also wanted to make it clear that talk of giving timetables or expiration dates or whatever to the government were not only undermining the government, but also inspiring 'terrorists,' is the term he used, and similarly he dismissed the notion of partition, which he also thought was undermining the government," he said.
Snow said President Bush assured Mr. Maliki that the rumors are false and should be ignored. The White House spokesman went on to say the president underscored his commitment to the Iraqi government and the hard decisions it must make.
"It is important for the people of Iraq to realize that the president and the United States government are behind Prime Minister Maliki's efforts to continue building democracy in Iraq and also to do some of the tougher, necessary business, including going after militias and terrorists," Snow said.
In an interview published Monday in the American newspaper USA Today, Mr. Maliki says Iraqi militias must be disbanded but adds it will "take time."
When asked if the Iraqi leader is being tough enough on the militias, Snow said President Bush believes Prime Minister Maliki is doing all he can to deal with problem. But the White House spokesman quickly added that much has to be done on many fronts to end the violence.
"There has to be more to be done," he said. "The violence level is absolutely unacceptable. And it is important to make progress. One of the things the prime minister was talking about in the phone call this morning with the president is he feels confident that the steps he is taking on the political, economic and security fronts not only are moving forward but are going to yield some fruit."
Snow emphasized an upsurge in sectarian violence in Iraq was expected during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He blamed the bloodshed on forces trying to destroy the democratically elected Iraqi government.
The turmoil in Iraq has become a major issue in the current U.S. congressional campaign, with many lawmakers calling for a new strategy. An independent commission authorized by Congress is looking into various policy options, and is scheduled to release its conclusions after the November 7 elections. The White House says it will seriously consider the commission's recommendations, but notes the president is the commander-in-chief.