RIGA, Latvia – President Bush said Tuesday he will not bow to calls to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq "before the mission is complete," setting the stage for Wednesday's face-to-face meeting in Jordan with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and delivering a response to critics demanding an immediate withdrawal.
"Tomorrow I'm going to travel to Jordan, where I will meet with the prime minister of Iraq. We will discuss the situation on the ground in his country, our ongoing efforts to transform more responsibility to the Iraqi security forces, and the responsibility of other nations in the region to support the security and stability of Iraq," Bush said in a speech ahead of the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia.
"We'll continue to be flexible. And we'll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete," he said.
Insurgents "seek to convince America and our allies that we cannot defeat them and that our only hope is to withdraw and abandon an entire region to their domination," the president continued. "If we allow the extremists to do this, then 50 years from now history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity and demand to know why we did not act."
At a news conference prior to his departure for Latvia from Estonia, Bush said cycles of sectarian revenge in Iraq causing escalating bloodshed is the work of Al Qaeda. He refused to debate whether the country has fallen into civil war.
"There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place — fomented, in my opinion, because of the attacks by Al Qaeda causing people to seek reprisal," Bush said at a news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
He said the latest surge of violence in Iraq does not represent a new era. "We've been in this phase for a while," he said.
"Extremists are using terror to stop the spread of freedom. Some are Shiite extremists, others are Sunni extremists, but they represent different faces of the same threat. And if they succeed in undermining fragile democracies and drive the forces of freedom out of the region, they will have an open field to pursue their goals," Bush said in his speech at Latvia University, where he also called on allies to step up their involvement in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan.
Iraq is reeling from the deadliest week of sectarian fighting since the war began in March 2003. Dating the current spike in violence to a February bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra that triggered reprisal attacks between Shiites and Sunnis and raised fears of civil war, Bush said he will ask al-Maliki to explain his plan for quelling the violence.
"The Maliki government is going to have to deal with that violence and we want to help them do so," he said. "It's in our interest that we succeed."
The meeting comes amid reports that cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shiite militia in Iraq is is getting help from Hezbollah terrorists. U.S. officials confirmed to FOX News that Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria, has trained as many as 2,000 of al-Sadr's fighters inside Iraq and in Lebanon.
Bush said Iran and Syria should not destabilize the young Iraqi democracy but should offer to help lift it out of chaos.
"They ought to be involved in constructive way, encouraging peace. That's the message the Iraqis have delivered to the Iranians, that's the message that Prime Minister Maliki has made clear -- that he expects the neighbors to encourage peaceful development of the country," Bush said.
Jordan's King Abdullah, who is hosting al-Maliki's meeting with Bush, has warned that unless bold steps are taken urgently, the new year could dawn with three civil wars in the Mideast — with one in Iraq added to those in Lebanon and between the Palestinians and Israelis.
But Bush tied the three conflicts together in a different way: He said recent strife in Lebanon and the heated up Israeli-Palestinian dispute are, like Iraq, the result of extremists trying to choke democratic progress.
"When you see a young democracy beginning to emerge in the Middle East, the extremists try to defeat its emergence," Bush said. "Extremists attack because they can't stand the thought of a democracy. And the same thing is happening in Iraq."
Extremists, he warned later, seek "to establish a totalitarian empire from Spain to Indonesia."
Directly seeking help from Iran and Syria with Iraq, as part of new, aggressive diplomacy throughout the region, is expected to be among the recommendations of a bipartisan panel on Iraq.
Iran, the top U.S. rival in the region, has reached out to Iraq and Syria in recent days — an attempt viewed as a bid to assert its role as a powerbroker in Iraq.
But Bush expressed reluctance to talk with two nations, both listed as state sponsors of terrorism. He added that the U.S. will only deal with Iran when they suspend their program of enriching uranium, which could be used in a nuclear weapon arsenal.
Iran's state-run television, however, quoted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani as saying: "We are in dire need of Iran's help in establishing security and stability in Iraq." The comments came after Talabani met Monday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.
Estonia, a former Soviet republic being rewarded as an anti-terror ally, was Bush's first stop en route to the NATO summit. He met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who has been critical of some NATO nations that only allow their troops in Afghanistan to be used for reconstruction not combat.
The U.S., Britain and the Netherlands are doing much of the heavy lifting in the dangerous southern areas, but they want nations such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain operating in more secure northern areas to reduce restrictions on their forces to give NATO commanders more flexibility to use them.
Currently in Afghanistan, all 26 NATO allies and 11 partner nations are contributing forces. Bush said that NATO's effectiveness was demonstrated over the summer when it took charge of security operations in southern Afghanistan and was immediately forced to fight Taliban fighters who used "the window of opportunity to test the alliance."
"It was a mistake," Bush said. "We've killed many hundreds of Taliban, and it has removed any doubt in anybody's mind that NATO can do what we were sent here to do ... For NATO to succeed, its commanders on the ground must have the resources and flexibility they need to do their jobs. The alliance was founded on a clear principle: An attack on one is an attack on all. That principle holds true whether the attack is on our home soil or on our forces deployed on a NATO mission abroad.
FOX News' Molly Henneberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.