Bush will say war ‘not open-ended’
WASHINGTON (AP) ” Unswayed by anti-war passions, President Bush said Wednesday he will send 21,500 additional U.S. forces to Iraq to quell its near-anarchy and acknowledged for the first time he had erred by failing to order a troop buildup last year.
The military increase will push the American presence in Iraq toward its highest level and put Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress. It also runs counter to advice from some generals.
Bush was to announce the buildup in a prime-time speech to the nation. Excerpts of his remarks were released in advance by the White House.
Bush said that “to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government. … 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,” he said.
The new Democratic leaders of Congress met with Bush before his speech and complained later that their opposition to a buildup had been ignored. “This is the third time we are going down this path. Two times this has not worked,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Why are they doing this now? That question remains.”
Senate and House Democrats are arranging votes urging the president not to send more troops. While lacking the force of law, the measures would compel Republicans to go on record as either bucking the president or supporting an escalation. Several Republicans appear ready to support the Democrats’ measure.
After nearly four years of bloody combat, the speech was perhaps Bush’s last credible chance to try to present a winning strategy in Iraq and persuade Americans to change their minds about the unpopular war, which has cost the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. military as well as more than $400 billion.
The president said Iraq must meet its responsibilities, too ” but he put no deadlines on Baghdad to do so.
“America’s commitment is not open-ended,” he said. “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 readily acknowledged making mistakes in previous efforts to stop the relentless violence in Baghdad. “There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents,” the president said. “And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.”
He said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised that U.S. forces would have a free hand and that “political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.”
Bush’s approach amounts to a huge gamble on al-Maliki’s willingness ” and ability ” to deliver on promises he has consistently failed to keep: to disband Shiite militias, pursue national reconciliation and make good on commitments for Iraqi forces to handle security operations in Baghdad.
Bush described his plan ” combining efforts to spur the Iraqi economy, fix broken services and clean up scarred neighborhoods ” as a blueprint to “change America’s course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror.” From a military standpoint, it did not represent a major shift. Even as more U.S. troops go in, Bush said the burden would be on Iraqis to tame the violence.
“Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people,” Bush said. “And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.”
In a now-familiar refrain, Bush portrayed the war in Iraq as “the decisive ideological struggle of our time.”
“In the long run,” he said, “the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy by advancing liberty across a troubled region.”
The buildup comes two months after elections that were widely seen as a call for the withdrawal of some or all U.S. forces from Iraq. Polling by AP-Ipsos in December found that only 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush’s handling of Iraq, his lowest rating yet.
Bush’s blueprint would boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq ” now at 132,000 ” to 153,500 at a cost of $5.6 billion. The highest number was 160,000 a year ago in a troop buildup for Iraqi elections.
The latest increase calls for sending 17,500 U.S. combat troops to Baghdad. The first of five brigades will arrive by next Monday. The next would arrive by Feb. 15 and the reminder would come in 30-day increments.
Bush also committed 4,000 more Marines to Anbar Province, a base of the Sunni insurgency and foreign al-Qaida fighters.
The bulk of the U.S. buildup will come from extending the deployments of three Army brigades and two Marine battalions and moving one Army brigade into Iraq a bit sooner than scheduled.
As a result of the heavier use of the active duty troops under the Bush plan, officials said the Pentagon may have to change current policies in order to give the military greater access to the National Guard and Reserves.
Al-Maliki has pledged three additional brigades, 10,000 to 12,000 troops, for security operations in Baghdad.
Bush’s plan mirrored earlier moves attempting to give Iraqi forces a bigger security role. The chief difference appeared to be a recognition that the Iraqis need more time to take on the full security burden.
Another difference involves doubling the number of U.S. civilian workers who help coordinate local reconstruction projects. These State Department-led units ” dubbed Provincial Reconstruction Teams ” are to focus on projects both inside and outside the heavily guarded Green Zone, and some will be merged into combat brigades.
Several Republican senators are candidates for backing the resolution against a troop increase. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota said they oppose sending more soldiers.
Republican Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and John Warner of Virginia also might be persuaded. Warner said he supports the Iraq Study Group recommendations, which strongly cautioned against an increase in troops unless advocated by military commanders.
Warner said he has questions about the merits of sending more troops when Gen. John Abizaid, the top military commander in the Middle East, testified last fall that additional troops were not the answer. Other senior generals also have expressed doubts. The White House said Abizaid and other senior commanders support Bush’s plan.
Also backing the president’s plan were maverick Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.
Bush’s strategy ignores key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which in December called for a new diplomatic offensive and an outreach to Syria and Iran.
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