Bush adds troops in bid to secure Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 11-Jan-07 | Author: David Sanger| Source: International Herald Tribune

People at an electronics store in Maryland watch US President George W. Bush give a televised address on his new plan for the war in Iraq.

WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush announced Wednesday evening that he was sending more than 20,000 American troops to Iraq to quell the sectarian violence there and conceded for the first time that there were not enough American or Iraqi troops in Baghdad to halt the capital's descent over the past year into chaos.

In a speech to the nation, Bush dropped his insistence that the United States was making progress toward building a workable Iraqi democracy. But he rekindled his argument that "failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States," saying that it would touch off chaos throughout the Middle East, provide a launching pad for attacks in the United States, and embolden Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

In documents released just before the speech, the White House acknowledged that his previous strategy was based on fundamentally flawed assumptions about the power of the shaky Iraqi government. He described his new strategy as an effort to "change America's course in Iraq," and gave no indication that the troop increase would be short-lived. He said that "we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties" in the course of more intensive around-the-clock patrols in some of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods.

Bush rejected all calls to begin a withdrawal from Iraq, arguing that the strategies advocated by newly empowered Democrats, restive Republicans and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group were a formula for deepening disaster.

"To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government," Bush said from the White House library, a room officials said was chosen to create more of a sense of a conversation with an anxious American public, rather than the formal surroundings of the Oval Office. "Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home."

Bush also offered his most direct acknowledgment of error in an American-led war that has lasted nearly four years and claimed more than 3,000 American lives. "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me," he said.

Yet for the first time, Bush faces what could become considerable political opposition to pursuing a war in which 132,000 Americans are already committed, even before the increases announced Wednesday night. Democrats in Congress are drawing up plans for what, at a minimum, could be a nonbinding resolution expressing opposition to the commitment of more forces to what many of them say they now believe is a losing fight. They will be joined by some Republicans, and may attempt other steps to block Bush from deepening the American commitment. Not since Richard M. Nixon ordered American troops in Vietnam to invade Cambodia in 1970 has a president taken such a risk with an increasingly unpopular war.

"For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq," Bush said in repeating an argument that he has used for nearly four years — that a retreat from the country before a decisive victory is won would provide terrorists a launching pad for new attacks on the United States and American targets.

In the 20-minute address, Bush said that for the first time Iraq would take command-and-control authority over all of its own forces, and he said that while more Americans ground troops were being put into the field, they would take more of a background role. He said that the Iraqi government had committed to a series of "benchmarks" — which included another 8,000 Iraqi troops and police in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq's sects and ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, financed by the Iraqis. In a running series of large and small briefings for reporters that opened a major campaign to market the new strategy, Bush's aides insisted that the plan was largely created by the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Yet Bush sounded less than certain of his support for the prime minister, who many in the White House and the military fear may be intending to extend Shiite power over the Sunnis, or could prove incapable of making good on his promises. "If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people," Bush declared.

The president put it far more bluntly when leaders of Congress came to visit Bush at the White House earlier on Wednesday. "I said to Maliki this has to work or you're out," the president told the Congressional leaders, according to two officials who were in the room. Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Bush shot back: "Because it has to."

Until the summer, Bush had used the phrase "stay the course" to describe his approach in Iraq, and his decision to describe his new strategy as an effort to "change America's course" appeared intended to distance himself from that old approach. An earlier plan unveiled in November 2005 had been entitled a "Strategy for Victory in Iraq," but Bush used the word "victory" sparingly on Wednesday night, and then only to diminish expectations.

"The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success," he said. "I believe that it will," saying that if it is successful it would result in a "functioning democracy" that "fights terrorists instead of harboring them."

In some of his sharpest words of warning to Iran, Bush accused the Iranian government of "providing material support for attacks on American troops" and vowed to "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies." He left deliberately vague the question of whether those operations would be limited to Iraq or conducted elsewhere, and said he had ordered the previously reported deployment of a new aircraft carrier strike group to the region, where it is in easy reach of Iranian territory.

Bush also announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would leave Friday for the region to build diplomatic support for the American effort in Iraq.

A new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, who replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld, is among the new members of the Iraq team whom Bush has brought in to execute the strategy announced Wednesday night. In the past week, Bush has sped the removal of the American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who is to become the Army chief of staff, and replaced him with a counterinsurgency specialist, Gen. Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus , who has embraced the new plan. A new American ambassador has been nominated to Baghdad as well, to replace Zalmay Khalilzad, a Sunni of Afghan heritage, who will represent the United States in the United Nations.

The five-brigade increase in American forces will be accomplished by speeding up the deployment of four units already scheduled to go to Iraq, and by sending one additional brigade that was not scheduled to go. The total increase of American troops in Iraq amounts to roughly 21,000, including 4,000 marines who will be stationed in Anbar Province, the stronghold of elements of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency. The increase in Iraqi troops and police amounts, officials said, to about 8,000.

The units heading into Iraq begin with a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, now in Kuwait, expected in Iraq before the end of the month, followed by a brigade of the First Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kansas, probably next month. The Army is also planning to announce that the Second Infantry Division, Fourth Brigade, based in Fort Lewis, Washington, and the Third Infantry Division's Second Brigade, based at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and the Third Brigade, based at Fort Benning, Georgia, should begin preparing to go to Iraq earlier than scheduled. Officials said that the total increase in troops could take three or four months.

The Bush plan also calls for delaying the departure from Iraq of a Minnesota National Guard brigade by four months, an official said. The unit had been planning to depart in the spring and had not been notified that it would be staying longer, Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Guard, said Wednesday.

While Democrats and some Republicans who have attacked Bush's plan in advance of the speech have questioned sending more troops, others question whether the Bush plan is too small — and falls short of the numbers needed to make a difference in a violent capital of six million. Nonetheless, one of Bush's top advisers said at the White House on Wednesday that he expected that Senator John McCain, who has championed a significant, long-term increase in troops, would embrace the president's plan.

The adviser cited a section of the Iraq Study Group's report that said the bipartisan commission could "support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission."

But on the same page, the report warns that "adding more American troops could conceivably worsen those aspects of the security problem that are fed by the view that the United States presence is intended to be a long-term "occupation." Similarly, the group urged direct engagement with Iran and Syria; Bush rejected that approach.

Bush, one of his top aides said in an interview on Wednesday, simply concluded that "the Iraqi government was running out of time" and would collapse without additional help. Yet at the core of Bush's new strategy, his own aides said, lies a tension between two objectives: Bush's commitment to staying in Iraq until the country is a stable, self-sustaining democracy, and his vague threat to Maliki that the American presence in the country would be cut short if Americans believed that the effort was failing.

His aides hinted that the administration had already come up with a "Plan B" in case the latest strategy failed, with one saying "there are other ways to achieve our objective" that departed from the strategy Bush outlined. But he would not describe that strategy, or say if it involved withdrawal, containment, or the breakup of the country into sectarian entities.

Bush said nothing on Wednesday evening about the cost of his plan in money, though he spoke of its cost in blood. The new aid and job-creation plans, his aides said, would likely cost around $1.1 billion.

President George W. Bush's address