New Iraq strat­egy still a work in progress

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Joseph Curl

More than six weeks af­ter Amer­i­cans turned Congress over to Democrats, Pres­i­dent Bush on Dec. 28 said he still does not have a plan for se­cur­ing Iraq, al­though he said he is “mak­ing good progress to­ward com­ing up” with one.

Af­ter meet­ing with top White House of­fi­cials and mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers at his Craw­ford, Texas, ranch dur­ing a vacation, the pres­i­dent said he is con­tin­u­ing to com­pile in­for­ma­tion and build a plan to deal with ram­pant sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence that had left 100 Amer­i­can troops dead last month.

“I’m mak­ing good progress to­ward com­ing up with a plan that we think will help us achieve our ob­jec­tive,” said Mr. Bush, flanked by Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney; Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice; Gen. Peter Pace, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Sec­re­tary of De­fense Robert M. Gates.

“I’ve got more con­sul­ta­tion to do un­til I talk to the coun­try about the plan,” he added. “The key to suc­cess in Iraq is to have a gov­ern­ment that’s will­ing to deal with the el­e­ments there that are try­ing to pre­vent this young democ­racy from suc­ceed­ing.”

The pres­i­dent’s ap­proval rat­ing has plum­meted, and Amer­i­cans de­liv­ered both cham­bers of Congress to the Democrats in Novem­ber in an elec­tion widely viewed as a re­buke of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Iraq pol­icy.

Mr. Bush has a small win­dow in which to change course in Iraq on his own terms: Congress re­turns early next month, and the pres­i­dent plans to de­liver his State of the Union ad­dress on Jan. 23. Al­though the White House promised quick ac­tion af­ter the bi­par­ti­san Iraq Study Group early last month called for the with­drawal of most com­bat troops by early 2008, the pres­i­dent changed his mind and pushed the plan off un­til next year.

“Not only will I con­tinue to reach out to Congress, but mem­bers of my team will do so, as well. I fully un­der­stand it’s im­por­tant to have both Repub­li­cans and Democrats un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of this mis­sion,” the pres­i­dent said.

The pres­i­dent is con­sid­er­ing what mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers call the “surge” op­tion: in­creas­ing the num­ber of troops in Iraq and em­bed­ding more U.S. an­a­lysts in Iraqi units to quell vi­o­lence in or­der to pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and re­build­ing.

The Pen­tagon said Dec. 27 that it will send about 3,500 troops to Kuwait to serve as a standby force for use in Iraq or else­where in the re­gion. The de­ploy­ment or­der was sent to a brigade of the 82nd Air­borne Di­vi­sion at Fort Bragg, N.C.

In ad­di­tion, the pres­i­dent an­nounced ear­lier last month that he sup­ports ex­pand­ing the Army and the Marine Corps, a move some mil­i­tary an­a­lysts took as a hint that he plans to send more troops into Iraq.

Mean­while in Iraq, a bomb killed an Amer­i­can sol­dier and wounded an­other on Dec. 28 while they were on pa­trol north of Bagh­dad. Three sol­diers also died from road­side bombs in the cap­i­tal, and a Marine was killed in west­ern An­bar prov­ince on Dec. 27, the mil­i­tary said. With 100 Amer­i­can troops dead as of Dec. 28, De­cem­ber was the sec­ond-dead­li­est month of 2006 for U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel. At least 105 troops died in Oc­to­ber.

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said the Dec. 28 meet­ing lasted nearly three hours and was fol­lowed by a lunch. An­other Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ses­sion is likely be­fore Mr. Bush an­nounces his plan in the first few weeks of Jan­uary, the of­fi­cial said.

The of­fi­cial said that Mr. Gates and Gen. Pace, who just re­turned from Iraq, elab­o­rated on the brief­ing they gave the pres­i­dent at Camp David be­fore Christ­mas and talked more about what they saw and heard on the ground.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Bush, on Dec. 28 at his Texas ranch, con­sulted with Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney and Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice as well as de­fense of­fi­cials on a new strat­egy for the Iraq war.

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