CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) — President Bush was briefed
yesterday on the spiraling violence and U.S. casualties in Iraq
where American forces are facing the heaviest fighting since the
fall of Baghdad a year ago.

Bush, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, through Easter Sunday,
got an update on fighting by U.S. Marines in the Sunni Muslim
stronghold of Fallujah. Bush spoke via a secure video conference
call with his national security advisers. The call was to have
included Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the Central Command which
has jurisdiction in Iraq, and L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian
in Iraq.

Bush also spoke by telephone for 30 minutes with British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, his closest ally in Iraq. The two leaders will
meet in Washington late next week to discuss Iraq and other foreign
policy problems.

Yesterday’s briefing was a follow up to a conference call
Tuesday night among the president, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and
White House chief of staff Andy Card.

As the security situation in Iraq remains dangerous, a U.S.
official speaking on the condition of anonymity said that a variety
of elements are conducting the attacks in Iraq, including Shiites
and members of the fallen Baathist regime, a group that is thought
to incorporate former Iraqi military or intelligence figures.

A defense official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity,
said the idea that there’s a popular uprising from a Shiite
monolith is “ludicrous.” For example, radical Shiite
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr doesn’t have a large following and his
militia — the Al-Mahdi Army — only numbers perhaps in
the thousands, the official said.

This official also said the military is making progress in
places including Ramadi, where 12 Marines were killed late
Tuesday.

The Marines died in heavy fighting, part of an uprising
involving both Sunni and Shiites that now stretched from Kirkuk in
the north to the far south. Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that if
violence gets worse, U.S. military commanders will get the troops
they need to deal with it.

On Capitol Hill, a senior Democrat, Sen. Robert Byrd of West
Virginia, urged caution.

“Surely I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam
in this development,” he said. “Surely, the
administration recognizes that increasing the U.S. troop presence
in Iraq will only suck us deeper, deeper into the maelstrom, into
the quicksand of violence that has become the hallmark of that
unfortunate, miserable country.

“Starkly put, at this juncture, more U.S. forces in Iraq
equates more U.S. targets in Iraq,” Byrd said. “The
harsh reality is this: One year after the fall of Baghdad, the
United States should not be casting about for a formula to bring
additional U.S. troops to Iraq. We should instead be working toward
an exit strategy.”

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