Bush Order Aims to Freeze Assets of Those Destabilizing Iraq

The Bush administration announced a new tool Tuesday aimed at putting a financial squeeze on people who run the networks that recruit and send would-be terrorists into Iraq.

President Bush unveiled a new executive order that allows the administration to block bank accounts and any other financial assets that might be found in this country belonging to people, companies or groups that the United States deems are working to threaten stability in Iraq.

Bush cited the "unusual and extraordinary threat" to national security and foreign policy of the United States "posed by acts of violence threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq and to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people."

No person, company or group was designated under the order on Tuesday.

The order seeks to fill a gap in U.S. authority to use financial sanctions to go after such offenders.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the order targets terrorist and insurgent groups, including those assisted by Syria and Iran, that are not covered by existing authorities.

"What this is really aimed at is insurgents and those who come across the border," Snow explained.

As many as 80 suicide bombers per month cross into Iraq from Syria, the administration said last week in an interim progress report on the the war.

The president's new executive order comes as Republican support for the Iraq war has eroded in recent weeks. The White House's interim progress report found that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has made spotty progress in meeting major targets of reform.

The 25-page administration report was issued in the fifth year of a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,600 U.S. troops and is costing U.S. taxpayers an estimated $10 billion a month.

Against this backdrop, the State Department announced Tuesday that the United States is ready to hold new direct talks with Iran on the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, in consultation with with secretaries of State and Defense, is authorized to take action under the president's new executive order.

The administration already has tools to clamp down financially on people, companies and groups that seek to bankroll terrorist activities or help funds specific terror groups, such as al-Qaida and Hezbollah. The United States also has financial sanctions against countries accused of fostering terrorism, such as Iran.