Bush Sending More Troops to Iraq on Brink of War

January 11th, 2007

George W. Bush told Americans he would send over 20,000 more U.S. troops to halt Iraq’s collapse into civil war but many Iraqis — and the president’s opponents in Congress — were skeptical the increase could do much good.

“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,” Bush said in a televised address.

As voters questioned the value of adding to the 3,000 U.S. troops killed in Iraq, Bush said the Iraqi government must keep promises to rein in militants on all sides to retain his backing — restating a condition some analysts see as pre-emptively shifting responsibility for any future failure to end bloodshed.

“America’s commitment is not open-ended,” said Bush.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to lead the new Baghdad security operation and indicated it will strike not only insurgents from Saddam Hussein’s once dominant Sunni minority but also militias loyal to fellow Shi’ites — a key demand of Washington and Sunnis, who say Iran is backing Shi’ite gunmen.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bluntly said on Thursday that Maliki’s team had to do a better job on security than in its seven months in power so far: “They haven’t performed in the past … They have to get organized right away, and they are.”

She said she would fly to Baghdad soon to check on progress.

Maliki aides describe Bush’s “new strategy” as a limited tune-up. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Maliki had crucially pledged that politicians would no longer be allowed to protect militants from their own factions: “If we see them falling short, we will make sure they know it,” he said.

U.S. newspapers were divided, with the Wall Street Journal hoping for a “virtuous circle” of better security but the New York Times forecasting “even greater disaster in Iraq”.

In Iraq, responses to the latest plan highlighted sectarian divides, with Sunnis hoping for the best and many Shi’ites increasingly resentful of the presence of the Americans.

Maliki’s spokesman repeated Iraqis had a leading role and said “militias … outside the government will be considered illegal”. Ali al-Dabbagh said no launch date had been set. Bush renewed complaints about the role of Syria and Shi’ite Iran in Iraq and U.S. troops raided an Iranian representative office in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil overnight, arresting five Iranians in the second such operation in the past month.

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