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Iraq: Opinions Sharply Divided On Bush's Way Forward

A roadblock in Baghdad on January 11 (epa) January 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush this week unveiled a $7 billion plan to stem the spiraling violence in Iraq, but many in Iraq wonder if his plan can make any difference.

The centerpieces of the new strategy are an additional 21,150 U.S. troops and an enhanced jobs and reconstruction program.

Official Welcome

Bush's plan has been welcomed by many in the upper echelons of the Iraqi government, who believe it underscores Washington's commitment to rebuilding Iraq.

"We know that 140,000 of his forces accomplished nothing," Sunni politician al-Faydi said. "What will 20,000 more do, other than generate more violence?"

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh on January 11 praised the plan as being in line with what the Iraqi government itself had envisioned.

"The political part of the U.S. strategy is an Iraqi vision," he said. "The good thing about this plan is that it acknowledges that responsibility for security should be handed over to the Iraqis. Trained and equipped, the Iraqi forces will be more capable of protecting Iraq's security."

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said the $1.2 billion earmarked for a rebuilding and jobs program shows the United States realizes how economic problems can lead to deterioration in security.

"Unemployment in Iraq increases the violence, and we must employ the unemployed so as not to leave them in the hands of those who support terrorism and push for violence," "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" quoted Salih as saying. "The new proposals fall within the context of the partnership between Iraq and the United States, and there is a need for coordination with the Iraqi government within the framework of spending the grants."

A source in Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi's office told the same newspaper that al-Hashimi welcomed Bush's decision to send additional U.S. forces to Iraq, but stressed "it is not the number of American troops that is important, but their method of action which concerns us."

Many Lawmakers Unenthusiastic

Bush's plan -- particularly the troop surge -- has been met with considerable skepticism, however, among several Iraqi leaders across the sectarian divide.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television on January 11, Salih al-Mutlaq, head of the Sunni-led Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, called the plan a rehash of old strategies and said it lacks any new vision.

Iraqi Front for National Dialogue head Salih al-Mutlaq (epa file photo)

"In fact, it is a new, yet old, strategy," al-Mutlaq said. "It is not different from the tone that President Bush used the first time and from the basic trends he adopted when he decided to invade Iraq."

Rida Jawad Taqiy, a leading member of the main Shi'ite party in Iraq, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), also believes a troop surge is unwarranted.

"Increasing the number of security forces will not, in our view, solve the problem," he is quoted as saying in "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." "There is a need to hand over the security dossier in full to the Iraqi government."

Warnings Of Increased Instability

Other Iraqi leaders warn that Bush's plan is dangerous and may have an adverse effect.

Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi, spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, Iraq's main Sunni clerics group, said sending more U.S. troops will lead to more violence and instability.

Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi (AFP file photo)

"We know that 140,000 of his forces accomplished nothing," al-Faydi said on Al-Arabiyah satellite television. "What will 20,000 more do, other than generate more violence when considering the surge in resistance they will trigger and that they will not leave Iraq until they kill even more Iraqis?"

Lawmaker Nuraldin al-Hayali from the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front reiterated that view in an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in Baghdad.

"We don't think the new, additional forces will present a satisfactory solution to Iraqis, either politicians or resistance," al-Hayali said. "They will be a very transient solution, but deploying these forces has implications that go beyond security."

Sunni lawmaker Hussein al-Falluji says Bush's new strategy is an indication that U.S. policy in Iraq has failed. He, too, believes an increase in U.S. forces will have disastrous results.

"Bush's plan could be the last attempt to fix the chaos created after the invasion of Iraq," he said. "Yet, sending more troops will not end the problem. On the contrary, there will be more bloodshed."

Iraqis Must Take The Lead

Several Iraqi leaders stress that it will be up to Iraqis themselves to make any plan work.

Kurdish leader Mahmud Uthman says the animosity and lack of cohesion among Iraq's different ethnic and religious groups may impede any plan's chances for success.

"If the Iraqi government is capable of fulfilling promises given to Bush or those Bush talked about, then the plan will be good," Uthman says. "If the Iraqi side is not capable, then the American plan will not be successful. I do not know whether this will work. If the Iraqi religious and political groups do not come together, no plan can work. It's a political problem, not a military problem."

Muslim Scholars Association spokesman al-Faydi reiterated this notion by criticizing Bush's plan for focusing too much on security issues while ignoring Iraq's political crisis.

"The American president is ignoring the dangerous political reality in Iraq," al-Faydi told Al-Arabiyah television. "Those who are on the ruling side today have taken the path of exclusion, of marginalization and pursuit of others. There are no links between the Sunnis and those participating in the political process."

Indeed, the grim security situation and the political logjam seem inherently intertwined. The surge in U.S. forces may be able to quell the violence in the short term, but can Iraq's political factions solve the political crisis?

Sectarian Iraq

Sectarian Iraq

Click to enlarge the image.

SUNNI, SHI'A: Iraq is riven along sectarian lines, faults that frequently produce violent clashes and are a constant source of tension. Sectarian concerns drive much of Iraqi politics and are the main threat to the country's fragile security environment.

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

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