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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006, 13:45 GMT
Bush presents firm front on Iraq
By Jon Leyne
BBC News, Amman

It was billed as a crisis meeting at a crucial time in Iraq's history - although you would never have guessed, watching a disarmingly relaxed President Bush field questions afterwards.

Mr Bush (right) meets Mr Maliki
Mr Bush rubbished rumours of a loss of confidence in Mr Maliki

There was certainly no hint that his project to spread democracy across the Middle East was in the tiniest bit of trouble.

"There are reports from Washington that we are looking for a graceful exit," said Mr Bush. "But we will stay until the job is done."

As for reports that the White House is losing confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, Mr Bush would have none of it.

The Iraqi prime minister was a strong leader, "the right guy for Iraq," insisted Mr Bush.

It is hard to believe it was all quite so cordial behind the scenes.

The day before the two leaders met, the New York Times ran a leaked memo from White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, which contained a withering analysis of Mr Maliki.

The Iraqi leader, said the memo, was "a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so".

The analysis was doubly damning: the fact that this was the opinion at the White House, but also that somebody senior decided to leak it to the press.

It has all fuelled speculation that Washington has lost patience with the Iraqi prime minister.

Black and white

And all the while, Mr Maliki was being undermined back home, as supporters of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr suspended participation in the government because of the meeting with President Bush.

The White House would like the Iraqi leader to take a tougher line, to crack down on Shia militias connected with the government.

The impression is that the president still believes his own rhetoric about 'staying the course'
There are daily horror stories of their activities. One militia has even taken over the health ministry. It can be a very dangerous place to visit.

But publicly at least, President Bush is offering his support, taking every opportunity at the news conference to boost the standing of the Iraqi prime minister.

All of this comes while Washington undertakes a comprehensive review of its strategy.

A bi-partisan commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker will report in a week.

Sources close to the group say they will suggest a pullback of US troops to their bases, but no firm timetable for a pullout.

President Bush is conducting his own separate review of policy.

As he made clear again in Jordan, there is no certainty that he will accept the recommendations of the Baker commission, or anyone else.

The impression is that the president still believes his own rhetoric about "staying the course".

Once again here in Jordan, Mr Bush painted this struggle in black and white terms, good against evil.

If he is being urged now to accept compromises and develop a new policy that reflects the increasingly complex nature of the war in Iraq, it is going to be a very hard sell.


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