The United States, the leading occupying power in Baghdad, will face increasing resistance attacks unless its occupation receives international endorsement which it currently lacks, Putin told The New York Times in remarks published on Monday.

“How would the local population treat forces whose official name is the occupying forces?” he was quoted as saying.

US troops face daily deadly resistance attacks in Iraq.

Putin warned that Iraq could become “a new magnet for all destructive elements”, claiming a number of different “terrorist” groups have emerged since the ousting of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Differences

The Russian leader disputed US President George Bush’s claims that Hussein’s government had ties with “terrorism” and extremists.

Instead, the former government battled these elements, he said.

“He (Hussein) either exterminated them physically, or put them in jail, or just sent them into exile.”

Occupying soldiers now faced “two enemies at once - both the remains of the Saddam regime, who fight with them, and those who Saddam himself had fought in the past - the fundamentalists”, said Putin.

During the interview, Putin was described as being sharply critical of US complaints about Chechnya, where Moscow has been brutally stamping out a separatist movement, and humiliating visa requirements for Russians.