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French Version

Bush 'open to suggestions' on how to end Iraq crisis

President George W. Bush said on Thursday that he was "open to any idea or suggestion" on the Iraq war, while US ally Britain said violence in the country will escalate, warning against a precipitous withdrawal by the coalition. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak broke an uneasy silence of Arab leaders over Saddam Hussein's verdict, warning Thursday that hanging the former dictator would lead to more bloodshed in Iraq.

In the meantime, bombings at markets in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad killed at least 24 people, among at least 40 others killed or found dead across the country.

Exposed by the Republican collapse, Bush adopted a conciliatory tone toward rivals who he claimed, as recently as Monday, thought Iraq was too tough and wanted to "get out before the job is done."

"Whatever party we come from, we all have a responsibility to ensure that these troops have the resources and support they need to prevail," Bush said in a statement after meeting members of his Cabinet. "I'm open to any idea or suggestion that will help us achieve our goals of defeating the terrorists and ensuring that Iraq's democratic government succeeds."

In his first speech since Bush abruptly announced his resignation on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that US efforts to stabilize Iraq have not gone well and that the military is not well suited for imposing America's will on violent extremists.

"I will say this: It is very clear that the major combat operations were an enormous success. It is clear that in phase two of this, it has not gone well enough or fast enough," he said.

Rumsfeld pointed to Iraq's constitution, its freely elected government, its functioning schools and hospitals, its stock market and the rise of a free press as evidence of progress.

But he said that had to be weighed against the sectarian violence and the killings of Muslims by other Muslim extremists, which has created "a much more complex situation."

"And quite honestly, our country does not have experience attempting to impose control and our will over vicious, violent extremists that don't have armies [and] operate in the shadows," he said.

In London, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett pledged that British troops will remain in Iraq as long as the Baghdad government wants them.

"The situation in Iraq is one which is dangerous and volatile," she said in a speech at the Royal United Service Institute, a key London think tank. "We are at a critical juncture in which the fate of that country hangs in the balance. There is the very real risk of even greater instability and bloodshed than we have already seen."

"We will do what we told the democratically elected government that we would do: Stay there as long as that government asks us to do so," she added.

A precipitous withdrawal "would be leaving the Iraqi government without the means to prevent a further escalation in the violence, without the tools to enforce the rule of law and without the authority to prevent their country turning into a base for terrorism," she warned.

In Cairo, meanwhile, Mubarak warned against the execution of Saddam.

"Carrying out this verdict will explode violence like waterfalls in Iraq," Mubarak was quoted as saying by state-run Egyptian daily newspapers.

The verdict "will transform [Iraq] into blood pools and lead to a deepening of the sectarian and ethnic conflicts," the Egyptian president said in the most high-profile Arab comment yet on Saddam's sentencing.

As the US and British governments reeled under growing pressure to rethink their strategy in Iraq, Iraqis were facing a more dangerous challenge.

At least 24 people were killed in Baghdad itself as the capital was wracked by at least eight explosions. The worst was a suicide car bomb near a shopping center which killed seven people and wounded 27.

Police said a mortar shell was fired at the site to lure people in before the car bomber detonated his vehicle, ensuring maximum casualties.

The flashpoint city of Baquba, northeast of the capital, reported at least 10 deaths in numerous incidents.

The bodies of at least six victims of roving sectarian death squads were found dumped in Baghdad, police Captain Fires Gait said.

The Daily Star

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