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Politics

A change in strategy

By BILL ADAIR
Published January 11, 2007


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WASHINGTON - Acknowledging that the United States has made critical mistakes in Iraq, President Bush said he plans to send 21,500 additional troops but will insist that Iraqi leaders take more responsibility for their country's destiny.

In a televised address to the nation, Bush said the U.S. effort to secure Baghdad had failed because of insufficient troops and because soldiers had too many restrictions about what they could do.

"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," he said.

The comments marked a stark change for a president who has insisted the United States was winning the war. In a televised speech a year ago, he told the nation that "our forces in Iraq are on the road to victory - and that is the road that will take them home."

On Wednesday night, Bush was more sober and emphasized the need for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders to fulfill their promises to restore peace and rebuild the nation.

"I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended," Bush said in a 20-minute address from the White House library. "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. Now is the time to act."

But Bush is proposing an increase in troops at a time when many Americans want to reduce the military presence. Polls show strong opposition to the additional troops and most Democrats - and some Republicans - are opposed. Democrats in Congress plan to call for votes on his plan.

"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."

To pay for the U.S. plan, Bush will seek more than $5.6-billion from Congress. As commander in chief, he can deploy troops as he sees fit. But Congress could force him to scale back the effort by reducing the money or limiting how it can be spent.

Bush said the U.S. troops "will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs."

Bush rejected calls for a U.S. withdrawal, saying "to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale. 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."

Under Bush's plan, the Iraqi military will be in charge of the security effort, with U.S. forces - who had been leading the effort - switching to a supporting role. But White House aides emphasized that U.S. troops will still be directed by U.S. commanders.

The plan calls for the Iraqis to beef up the military presence in Baghdad and insists that they police the area without favoritism to any sect or religion. The plan also says the Iraqi government will share oil revenues with its citizens and spend $10-billion on reconstruction and infrastructure.

Bush's plan differs from the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which called for a withdrawal of most U.S. troops by 2008 and high-level diplomacy with Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran.

But Bush said those nations are aiding the insurgents in Iraq. Rather than negotiate, he is sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the region and plans to intercept the "flow of support" across the borders from Iran and Syria.

A U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003 because of fears that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but none were found. Since then, more than 3,000 U.S. troops have died.

A Gallup poll this week found that only 36 percent of Americans favor sending more troops, while 61 percent are opposed.

Democrats were quick to criticize his plan Wednesday, calling it an "escalation" that would result in more U.S. deaths.

"Twenty thousand additional troops, most of which would be in Baghdad, will not help the situation," said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat.

Some Republicans embraced the plan.

Sen. Mel Martinez, a Floridian who is expected to become chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, "It has a reasonable chance to achieve the success we very much need in Iraq. And there is no alternative but success."

But other Republicans are wary. Their party lost control of Congress in part because of the Iraq war and they are reluctant to embrace the president's proposal.

Said Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville: "The troops that I speak to that come back from Iraq want to finish the job. But I also don't want this to be a last-ditch effort to protect the president's legacy at the expense of the troops."

Times staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press. Bill Adair can be reached at adair@sptimes.com.

By the numbers

3,017 Total U.S. military deaths in Iraq

$300B Approximate costs of the Iraq war

1 in 4 Americans in a Gallup poll for USA Today and CNN who approve of President Bush's handling of the war.

132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq

60 Bodies, many of them victims of torture, found Wednesday in Baghdad.

[Last modified January 11, 2007, 00:27:53]


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