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Bush Admits Mistakes, Proposes Iraq Troop Increase

(AFP) WASHINGTON, January 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush said he intends to end the bloody civil strife in Iraq by sending 21,500 more troops to the country.

In a televised address on the evening of January 10, Bush acknowledged he'd made some mistakes in his handling of the nearly 4-year-old war, but said he was determined to keep Iraq from descending into chaos.

'Not Time To Step Back'

Bush said it's vital to crack down now on Iraq's sectarian militias and insurgents. Otherwise, he said, the United States' task would become doubly difficult.

"To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear the country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale," he said. "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."

"Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have,"

If he acts now, Bush said, U.S. troops would be able to pacify Iraq more quickly so they could leave sooner.

There are now about 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Bush would raise that number to 153,500. The cost: $5.6 billion for the extra deployment and another $1.2 billion for a rebuilding and jobs program.

Of the additional troops, 17,500 will be sent to Baghdad, while Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamil al-Maliki is promising to contribute up to 12,000 of his own forces to the capital. And an additional 4,000 U.S. personnel will go to Al-Anbar Governorate, west of Baghdad, where Sunni insurgents and Al-Qaeda fighters are based.

Bush said the hard work wouldn't be left only to U.S. forces. Al-Maliki also must take responsibilities for his country's security, he said.

Bush also pledged to cut off Iranian and Syrian support to what he called "terrorists" in Iraq.

He also warned that leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Persian Gulf states needed to understand that a U.S. defeat in Iraq "would create a new sanctuary for extremists" and could threaten the survival of these governments.

An Admission Of Failure

"I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended," Bush said. "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. The prime minister understands this."

According to Bush, al-Maliki promised to take over security in all the country's provinces by November.

Bush (right)and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki met in Jordan in November 2006 (epa)

Bush acknowledged having made mistakes in trying to bring peace to Iraq.

"Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have," he said. "Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work."

And Bush said he also had al-Maliki's promise that U.S. forces wouldn't face what he called "political or sectarian interference" in ending the sectarian violence.

Opposition From Both Sides

Bush's decision is opposed by most Democrats in Congress, who now control both the Senate and the House of Representatives. After the president's speech, Democratic Senator Richard Durbin (Illinois), gave his party's opposition statement.

Durbin said an increase in U.S. forces wouldn't pacify Iraq, but merely mean a greater cost in American lives and resources.

"Twenty thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we've already lost," Durbin said. "It's time for President Bush to face the reality of Iraq, and the reality is this: America has paid a heavy price. We have paid with the lives of more than 3,000 of our soldiers. We have paid with the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, and we've paid with the hard-earned tax dollars of the families of America."

Iraq's prime minister has promised to take over security throughout the country by November (epa)

Four senators from Bush's Republican Party also have publicly stated their opposition to a troop increase in Iraq.

And a fifth Republican -- Senator John Warner (Republican, Virginia), former chairman of the Armed Services Committee -- says he supports the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a panel of leading foreign policy experts who, among other things, rejected the idea of an increased U.S. military presence in Iraq unless generals requested it.

Bush does, however, have the support of Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona), who has long called for more troops. Another prominent ally is Sen. Joseph Lieberman (independent, Connecticut).

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.