WASHINGTON – President Bush said Thursday the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Iraq was "an evil act" intended to create strife.
As violence and bloodshed spread after the attack on the Samarra shrine known as the Golden Mosque, Bush said he appreciated that leaders from all aspects of Iraqi society have stood up and urged calm.
"The act was an evil act," Bush said. "The destruction of a holy site is a political act intending to create strife. So I am pleased with the voices of reason that have spoken out. And we will continue to work with those voices of reason to enable Iraq to continue on the path of a democracy that unites people and doesn't divide them."
He said the United States was serious in its commitment to help rebuild the Golden Mosque.
"We understand its importance to Iraqi society and we want to stand side by side with the government in making sure that beautiful dome is restored," Bush said.
A major Sunni Arab bloc suspended talks with Shiite and Kurdish parties on a new government after scores of Sunni mosques were attacked and dozens of bodies found in a wave of reprisal violence following the bombing of the shrine.
Later Thursday, speaking at a political fundraiser in Indiana, Bush at first appeared to blame Al Qaeda for the bombing, and then emphasized that it is unknown who was responsible.
"You want to know how tough Al Qaeda is, just look at — we don't know exactly who did the bombing of this incredibly important holy shrine," he said. "I firmly believe that whoever did this is not a religious person but an evil person."
At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said he was not aware of any changes in the U.S. military mission in light of this week's surge in violence, and he said it did not necessarily mean Iraq was on the brink of civil war.
"I wouldn't describe it that way at all," he said, adding that the U.S. military was going about its usual business. The latest sectarian violence "is something for the Iraqi government to address," he added.