| US President George W. Bush during a press conference at the Rose Garden in the White House. (AFP)
Washington, Oct. 28 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush today blamed a wave of violence in post-war Iraq in part on “foreign terrorists,” and said he expected Syria and Iran to enforce border controls to stop infiltrators.
Bush vowed that the US would not “crater in the face of hardship,” and said those behind the suicide bombings had the “same mentality” as those who carried out the September 11 attacks on the US.
“We’re constantly looking at the enemy and adjusting,” Bush said at a Rose Garden news conference in the aftermath of yesterday’s bloodbath in Baghdad in which 35 people were killed.
“We’re not leaving,” Bush said.
US military officials say there are signs that foreign fighters were behind four suicide bombings that killed 35 people and wounded 230 yesterday in Baghdad’s bloodiest day since Saddam Hussein was overthrown. But they have provided little direct evidence and at least one senior US commander in Iraq played down the role of outsiders.
One attacker captured in a foiled raid on a police station had a Syrian passport. “(Saddam Hussein’s deposed) Baathists try to create chaos and fear because they realise that a free Iraq will deny them the excessive privileges they had under Saddam Hussein,” Bush said.
“The foreign terrorists are trying to create conditions of fear because they fear a free and peaceful state in the midst of a part of the world where terror has found recruits. That freedom is exactly what terrorists fear the most.”
Bush said the United States was “working closely” with Iran and Syria, and added: “We expect them to enforce borders, prevent people from coming across borders if in fact we catch them doing that.” He said coalition forces were also stepping up border enforcement efforts.
Bush has seen his public approval ratings slide over post-war violence, skyrocketing costs and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
Guerrillas have killed 113 US troops since Bush declared major combat over on May 1.
A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows Bush’s job approval rating at 53 per cent, compared to 42 per cent who disapproved.
In a hypothetical match-up with an unnamed Democrat, Bush is the choice of 46 per cent, while the President’s rival was picked by 43 per cent.
In contrast, after the September 11 attacks, Bush’s approval ratings topped 80 per cent and.
And despite high-profile arrests in his declared “war on terrorism,” al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remain at large and may be behind recent attacks against Americans.
In his latest audio tape, bin Laden urged Iraqis to wage a holy war against American “crusaders” in Iraq.
But Bush insisted progress was being made, both in the war on terrorism and in boosting the US economy. “The world is safer today,” Bush said.
Arabs today saw the latest bombings in Baghdad as an unholy bloodbath. But a few said they were part of a just fight against US occupation and most agreed Washington only had itself to blame for the chaos.
They said the US had failed to provide Iraqis with enough security to prevent the devastating suicide attacks in the capital that killed 35 people yesterday, at the start of Ramazan.
“America is responsible for all deaths in Iraq. It is responsible for the emergence of gangs and thieves because the absence of leadership like Saddam’s was filled with chaos and anarchy,” said Palestinian taxi driver Dib el-Malek in Gaza.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, anger in the Arab world has grown with the collapse of law and order in oil-rich Iraq.
“I was against the US invasion of Iraq and I believe that the United States was unjust in its war on Iraq, but I think America would be even more unjust if it withdraws now from the country because it (Iraq) would be easily torn apart.” said Mansour Abdullah, 51, a government employee in Saudi Arabia.
Others were keener to see the end of the U.S.-led occupation that many view as a thinly veiled act of colonialism. They feared Monday's bombings, which included an attack on the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad, would extend the U.S. presence.
”Iraq, on the first day of Ramadan, was the scene of a bloodbath and occupation forces are directly responsible for this because of the instability they created in Iraq,” wrote the daily al-Khaleej, published in the United Arab Emirates.