The US president also suggested on Monday that the fledgling government of  Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, should tap the country's oil reserves to help the Iraqi people, win their support and undermine the influence of militants.

 

"The best way to win this war against an insurgency is to stand up a unity government which is capable of defending itself but also providing tangible benefits to the people," he told reporters at the Camp David retreat in Maryland.

 

His comments came after the first of two days of talks with US diplomatic and military officials to reassess the war effort in Iraq. He was to speak to al-Maliki and his aides via a video link on Tuesday.

 

Bush also said that the US would hunt the successor to al-Qaeda's chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed last week.

 

"The successor to Zarqawi is going to be on our list to bring to justice," Bush said.

 

"Strategy of victory"

 

Amid mounting pressure to bring some or all US troops home, Bush said that the commander of US forces in Iraq, General George Casey, would assess how well al-Maliki's team was doing in defeating the insurgency.

 

The US has about 140,000 soldiers in Iraq. It has maintained a strong presence there since the 2003 invasion it led with other Western countries.

 

"Whatever we do will be based upon the conditions on the ground," Bush said. "And whatever we do will be toward a strategy of victory. 

 

"This is a process of understanding the Iraqi capabilities."

 

The US president also suggested that Iraq's oil reserves might be one of al-Maliki's best weapons against those who seek to destabilise his government, proposing the creation of a fund to help the Iraqi people.

 

Oil money

 

"My own view is that the government ought to use the oil as a  way to unite the country and ought to think about having, you know, a tangible fund for the people so the people have faith in the central government," he said.

 

Bush also said: "Iraq's neighbours ought to do more to help them. And we're constantly working with our friends in the neighbourhood to encourage them to support this new democracy.

 

"We expect our friends who have made commitments - $13 billion - to honour those commitments."

 

He was referring to the amount pledged by donors other than the United States at an Iraq aid conference in October 2003.