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U.S.: White House Says No Iraq Decisions Before New Year

Iraqis grieve over a dead relative, killed in Ba'qubah on December 13 (epa) PRAGUE, December 13, 2006 -- U.S. President George W. Bush has delayed his planned announcement of a new U.S. strategy for Iraq, as he faces a growing list of contradictory recommendations from all quarters.

The White House announced on December 12 that Bush will not address the country on the issue until after the New Year holiday.

It was exactly a week ago that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group urged a U.S. policy shift on Iraq -- calling the situation in the country "grave and deteriorating."

"But the most important thing is that the president continues to be engaged in the business of talking about the way forward." -- White House spokesman Tony Snow

The panel's recommendations, which include engaging Iran and Syria and pulling out U.S. combat units from Iraq by 2008 – while leaving trainers embedded in the Iraqi Army -- are a radical change from the Bush administration's current policy.

Many U.S. politicians -- and ordinary citizens -- believe Bush's current Iraq strategy is failing and welcomed the conclusions of the Iraq Study Group.

Lots Of Points Of View

But since then, the U.S. president has been caught in a tug-of-war among different factions in the administration, as well as among America's Mideast allies, making it difficult for him to formulate a coherent plan.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on December 12, sought to downplay the delay in announcing a new policy.

"It shouldn't be surprising that he wants to take the time to digest [a new Iraq strategy], to discuss it with his senior advisers and then to put forward a way forward," Rice said. "And I'm quite certain that will be in a reasonable length of time, but it has to be a way forward that, first and foremost, the president feels he's consulted fully, that he has been given the very best advice."

But others, including the incoming Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid (Nevada), said "waiting and delaying on Iraq serves no one's interests."

No senior administration officials in Washington are speaking on the record, but leading U.S. media are awash in reports about the different factions vying for the president's ear -- inside and outside the White House.

According to those reports, Rice is a leading proponent of negotiations aimed at rallying centrist Sunni leaders to Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's side. The idea is that creating some sort of centrist Shi'ite-Sunni coalition would be the best way to bring stability to Iraq and isolate the militias on both sides.

Vice President Dick Cheney, however, reportedly believes that plan is unworkable. He apparently favors clearer U.S. support for Iraq's majority Shi'ite government.

The Saudi Factor

That has reportedly upset key U.S. regional ally Saudi Arabia -- a majority Sunni country. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly warned against any U.S. pullout from Iraq, believing it would precipitate an all-out massive civil war.

The scene of a car bombing in Baghdad on December 13 (epa)

According to the U.S. daily "The New York Times" today, Saudi officials told Cheney during his recent visit to the kingdom that if the Bush administration sides with Iraq's Shi'a and pulls out, Saudi Arabia may be forced to provide financial backing to the Sunnis.

On December 11, a group of prominent Saudi clerics called on Sunni Muslims around the world to mobilize against Shi'ia in Iraq.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, abruptly left Washington for home this week, amid reports he was resigning.

As if all this weren't enough for the White House to consider, questions remain about how best to redeploy the U.S. military in Iraq.

One option calls for sending in an additional 15,000 to 30,000 troops to secure Baghdad. Another one would take the opposite strategy -- redirecting U.S. forces out of sectarian-strife zones and letting Iraqi security forces pick up the slack.

Bush is due to visit the Pentagon today for a briefing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the issue.

'Talking About The Way Forward'

As to when Bush will make up his mind, his spokesman Tony Snow on December 12 left that completely open.

"That is not going to happen until the new year," Snow said. " We do not know when, so I can't give you a date, I can't give you a time, I can't give you a place, I can't give you a way in which it will happen. So, all those questions are yet to be answered. But the most important thing is that the president continues to be engaged in the business of talking about the way forward."

With the new Democrat-controlled Congress taking over next month, however, Bush faces a limited time span for decision making.

On The Verge Of Civil War

On The Verge Of Civil War

The Imam Al-Mahdi Army on parade (epa)

HAS THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ BECOME A CIVIL WAR? Many observers have concluded that the tit-for-tat sectarian violence that emerged after the February 2006 bombing of a mosque in Samarra has become a full-blown civil war.... (more)


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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.