Bush: Iraq Not In Civil War

U.S. President George W. Bush gestures during a press conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, not seen, at the National Bank of Estonia in Tallinn, Estonia, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006.
AP Photo
President Bush said Tuesday that the sectarian violence rocking Iraq is not civil war but part of an al Qaeda plot to use violence to goad Iraqi factions into repeatedly attacking each other.

"No question it's tough, no question about it," Mr. Bush said at a news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. "There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented in my opinion because of the attacks by al Qaeda causing people to seek reprisal."

Mr. Bush, who travels to Jordan later in the week for a summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the latest cycle of violence does not represent a new era in Iraq. The country is reeling from the deadliest week of sectarian fighting since the war began in March 2003.

"We've been in this phase for a while," he said.

This comment appeared at odds with the assessment of the president's national security adviser, who told reporters on the way to Estonia that Iraq is in a "new phase" that requires changes.

The White House doesn't want to use the term "civil war," because it's the next category of chaos, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports. There's also a huge difference between U.S. troops engaged in a noble mission like bringing democracy to a region and being caught in another country's civil war.

Reviews of how to alter the Iraq strategy are underway within the administration, even as a bipartisan panel, led by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., is completing the recommendations it is expected to present to the president next month.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin says Iraq Study Group has hit no major snags in its talks, and could present the president with its report as early as next week.

The members, according to Martin, have agreed on several key points for their recommendations, among them, an all-out diplomatic offensive with Iraq's neighbors — including Iran and Syria — to get help in stabilizing the country.

But Mr. Bush continued to express his administration's reluctance to talk with two nations it regards as pariah states working to destabilize the Middle East

Iran, the top U.S. rival in the region, has reached out to Iraq and Syria in recent days — an attempt viewed as a bid to assert its role as a powerbroker in Iraq.