Bush Outlines New Strategy for Course Ahead in Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2007 President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq, announced tonight in a televised speech to the nation, includes more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops on the ground in Baghdad and Anbar province, increased responsibility for the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces, and more diplomatic and economic initiatives.
Bush, speaking from the White House, said his new strategy “will change America’s course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror.”
The president acknowledged that the situation in Iraq has changed dramatically since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra in February 2006. The sectarian violence it ignited has overwhelmed political gains Iraqis have achieved and created an “unacceptable” situation in Iraq, he said.
The most urgent priority in Iraq is to stop the violence and create the stability needed for the country’s new government to succeed, the president said.
Toward this end, Bush announced tonight that the Iraqi government has committed 18 Iraqi army and national police brigades to deploy across Baghdad’s nine districts and work in concert with local police.
To help the Iraqis succeed in their mission, Bush said he has committed five additional U.S. military brigades to Baghdad and 4,000 more troops in Anbar province, the most restive parts of Iraq. He noted that 80 percent of all violence in Iraq occurs within 30 miles of the capital city and that Anbar province has become al Qaeda’s new home base.
The U.S. troops will embed with Iraqi formations and operate alongside them, helping them clear and secure neighborhoods, protect the local population and ensure that they are able to provide the security Baghdad needs, he said.
Bush said military commanders who have reviewed his new plan say it addresses the two principal reasons past efforts to secure Baghdad failed.
“Here are the differences,” the president said. “In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents, but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. This time, we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.”
Also, Bush said, political and sectarian interference during past operations prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to the people fueling sectarian violence. “This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods, and Prime Minister (Nouri al-) Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated,” he said.
Ultimately, Bush said “only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people.” But, he added, the Iraqi government has an aggressive plan to accomplish that.
The president said bumping up the U.S. troop presence now will help the Iraqis succeed. “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.
Bush said he has made it clear to Maliki that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended and that his government must step up to the plate. “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,” the president said. “Now is the time to act. The prime minister understands this.”
Bush cautioned that the new strategy won’t bring an immediate end to violence. “Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering,” he said. “Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents.”
When that happens, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will be able to make progress in other critical areas, he said. “Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shiia want to live together in peace,” the president said. “And reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.”
Bush emphasized that a successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. “Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities,” he said. “So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.”
These benchmarks include the Iraqi government:
-- Taking responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November;
-- Passing legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis, giving every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy;
-- Spending $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that create new jobs;
-- Holding local provincial elections later this year to empower local leaders; and
-- Reforming de-Baathification laws to allow more Iraqis to reenter political life and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.
The United States will change its approach to help the Iraqi government as it works to meet these benchmarks, the president said. It will:
-- Embed more U.S. advisors in Iraqi army units and partner a coalition brigade with every Iraqi army division;
-- Help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces;
-- Give U.S. commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance;
-- Double the number of provincial reconstruction teams that help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen moderates and speed the transition to self-reliance; and
-- Appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq.
As the United States makes these changes, the president said, it will continue to pursue terrorists seeking to establish a new safe haven in Iraq. “America's men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan, and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq,” he said.
Part of this effort is confronting Iran and Syria, which Bush said allow terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq, and generating support for Iraq’s success among its regional neighbors.
Bush said he’s confident that the new strategy will help put Iraq on the path for victory. That victory, he said, “will bring something new in the Arab world: a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties and answers to its people.”
A democratic Iraq won’t be perfect, Bush said, “but it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them, and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.”
Bush said the struggle taking place in Iraq “will determine the direction of the global war on terror and our safety here at home.”
“The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict,” he said. “It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time.
“In the long run,” he added, “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.”