WASHINGTON – President Bush worked Saturday to finish his new war plan that could send as many as 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq and provide more money for jobs and reconstruction programs.
In Washington, Bush, who will announce his plan as early as Wednesday, held discussions with his national security advisers and then headed out of the White House for a bike ride. In Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that Iraqi forces would launch a new effort to wrest control of neighborhoods in the capital from Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads.
Military officials say Bush is considering sending two to five brigades — up to 20,000 troops — to help tamp down violence that is preventing political reconciliation and rebuilding efforts in Iraq. The idea of a troop buildup is getting a cool reception on Capitol Hill and from some military leaders who claim there is no military solution to the problems in Iraq where 140,000 troops already are deployed.
"Based on the advice of current and former military leaders, we believe this tactic would be a serious mistake," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in the Democratic radio address Saturday. Instead, Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want Bush to begin pulling troops out in four to six months.
"Our troops and their families have already sacrificed a great deal for Iraq," Reid said. "They have done their part. It's time for the Iraqis to do their part."
Some military officials, familiar with the discussions, say Bush could initially dispatch 8,000 to 10,000 new troops to Baghdad, and possibly Anbar Province, and leave himself the option of sending more later if security doesn't improve.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., say that, at a minimum, another three to five brigades should be sent to Baghdad and one more to Anbar province. About 3,500 to 4,000 troops are in a brigade.
Most of the discussion about Bush's new plan has focused on U.S. troop strength, but the strategy he will unveil also will address political and economic issues. "The clear, hold and build counterinsurgency strategy requires a focus on all three," White House counselor Dan Bartlett said. "Our strategy will reflect that point."
Military analysts say Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who recently finished his tour as the No. 2 general in Iraq, has recommended a short-term jobs program. Others familiar with the plan say Bush is favoring: short-term jobs programs and extending micro-loans to small business; increasing the amount of money that military commanders can spend quickly on local projects to improve the daily lives of Iraqis.
Bush is considering allocating more money for the Commander's Emergency Response Program, set up in 2003 to give field commanders money to solve local problems quickly — and show American compassion and good will. The program was allocated $753 million in the 2006 budget year. The president also has expressed interest in shoring up job-training programs for Iraqis and the work being done by State Department teams that coordinate local reconstruction efforts in Iraq, according to those familiar with discussions.
In a move reflecting Bush's aim to shift gears in Iraq, the White House on Friday announced that Bush has picked Adm. William Fallon, who commands American forces in the Pacific, to replace retiring Gen. John Abizaid as top U.S. commander in the Middle East, and will nominate Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces, to replace Gen. George Casey as top American general in Iraq. Casey is becoming Army chief of staff.
Both Abizaid and Casey have expressed qualms in recent weeks about boosting U.S. forces in Iraq. Abizaid said an increase of 20,000 could not be sustained for long by the overburdened American military, and Casey said such a boost should be used only to advance U.S. strategic goals.
Last summer, the U.S. military and Iraqi army flooded the capital with 12,000 additional troops to quell violence. By October, the U.S. military said the operation had not met expectations and the situation was disheartening. And the second half of last year ended up being one of the most violent periods in the central and western sections of the Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Bush is expected to continue his briefings with lawmakers next week, culminating in a meeting with bipartisan leadership on Wednesday, according to lawmakers and aides.