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Bush outlines new tactics for Iraq, but faces big obstacles

WASHINGTON—President Bush laid out his "New Way Forward" in Iraq Wednesday night, calling for beefing up U.S. forces there by extending tours of duty for 21,500 troops, adding $1.2 billion in new reconstruction aid and letting Iraqi forces take the lead in joint combat operations.

"The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security," Bush said in a nationally televised address. "The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will."

Bush's latest Iraq plan faces two immediate obstacles:

_Leaders of the new Democratic-led Congress oppose his proposed troop buildup, as do many influential Republicans. They may try to block it, though they haven't agreed on a firm plan to do so.

_Bush's plan relies on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite Muslim-dominated government to crack down on its allies in the country's Shiite militias, which it has so far refused to do.

Questions abound: Will an additional 21,500 American troops in Iraq, taken mostly from units to be held longer in Iraq or sent there sooner, be enough to help restore order both in Baghdad and in violent, Sunni-dominated Anbar Province?

Will an additional $1 billion in aid make a dent in the country's economic problems?

Last, will Bush's efforts to reassure Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq's other Sunni Muslim neighbors calm their fears that Shiite power may expand from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon? Bush has sent an aircraft carrier battle group and some Patriot missile defense batteries to the Persian Gulf to calm Sunni Arab nerves. But he has largely ignored recommendations to open talks with Iran and Syria and to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The president acknowledged previous failures.

"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," he said. Past efforts to quell violence in Baghdad failed, he said, because "there were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods" and "there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have." He said his plan would remedy such flaws.

He warned of a "bloody and violent" year ahead in the war-torn country, despite his new proposals.

"This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED (improvised explosive device) attacks," Bush said. "Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering."

Bush appeared to signal a more aggressive policy toward Syria and Iran, saying the U.S. would take unspecified steps to "disrupt" attacks on U.S. troops by terrorists and insurgents who use Iranian and Syrian territory to move in and out of Iraq.

Specifically, Bush proposed:

_Boosting U.S. troop strength in Iraq by 21,500 by extending tours of duty, with about 17,500 to Baghdad and 4,000 to Anbar Province. The increase will be staggered, with the first combat brigade arriving in Baghdad on Jan. 15 and the second on Feb. 15. Additional brigades will be added every 30 days.

_Increasing economic reconstruction aid by $1 billion.

_Having Iraq deploy 10,500 additional Iraqi troops and nine additional 800-man police brigades in Baghdad, with all of the new military units in place by Feb. 15.

_A new command structure that will put Iraqis in charge of security in Baghdad, with U.S. troops deeply embedded in Iraqi units. U.S. troops would remain under U.S. command.

_An end to the open-ended commitment of U.S. troops, but no timetable for withdrawal.

_Having Iraqis take the lead responsibility for security throughout the country by November, with continued U.S. help after that.

_The deployment of additional civilian reconstruction teams, including teams embedded with troops to hasten rebuilding efforts in newly secured areas.

_New diplomatic efforts to get more help from Iraq's neighbors and a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

_More pressure on Iraqis to follow through on plans for provincial elections, a new law for distributing oil revenues and other measures intended to foster Iraqi unity.

In addition, Bush's plan appears to abandon a key point of previous U.S. strategy—it no longer emphasizes disarming and disbanding Shiite militias, leaving both to the Iraqi government, which depends on those militia for support.

Bush put Iraq on notice that America won't stay forever.

"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 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."

Bush's immediate audience is a Democratic-controlled Congress already hostile to his plan to increase U.S. troops in Iraq. Democratic House and Senate leaders issued a statement following his speech repeating their opposition.

Both House and Senate Democrats plan floor votes soon on resolutions opposing the president's troop buildup, but they'll be nonbinding.

Democratic congressional leaders don't appear to have an immediate consensus, however, on what, if any, binding legislation they should push or how fast to move. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., hopes to pass legislation that would require congressional approval of any increase in troops, but party leaders concede that they lack the votes to make that stick at this time, especially over a Bush veto.

Bush, however, can no longer count on solid Republican support in Congress.

"I refuse to put more American lives on the line in Baghdad without being assured that the Iraqis themselves are willing to do what they need to do to end the violence of Iraqi against Iraqi," Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said Wednesday on the Senate floor. "If Iraq is to fulfill its role as a sovereign and democratic state, it must start acting like one."

Similarly, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who's exploring a bid for the presidency in 2008 as a social-values conservative, declared himself against a troop increase Wednesday.

"I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer," Brownback said while traveling in Iraq. "Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution."

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday he's weighing a Senate resolution endorsing the approach of the Iraq Study Group, which called last month for urgently shifting responsibility to Iraqi forces so that most U.S. combat troops could be withdrawn by early next year.

In the House of Representatives, eight Republicans sent a letter Wednesday to Bush urging him not to increase troop levels.

Many of Bush's new proposals—a limited increase in U.S. troops, Iraqis taking the lead in security matters, billions in reconstruction aid—have been tried before and failed to reduce violence or quell the insurgency.

Last fall, for example, an Iraqi-led joint U.S.-Iraqi military mission to secure some of Baghdad's most violent neighborhoods produced complaints from U.S. military commanders about the ineptness of Iraqi forces.

U.S. military officials complained that the daily missions started late and some Iraqi troops failed to show up for work. Some Iraqi soldiers would do their job only in front of American forces and slack off if only Iraqi commanders were around.

Some top U.S. military officials in Iraq say for Bush's plan to work, Iraqi officials must go after Sunni and Shiite extremists. U.S. troops have aggressively targeted Sunni areas, conceding they can't enter Shiite strongholds, such as Sadr City, because of Iraqi political pressure. Shiite support is the backbone of al-Maliki's government.

Americans have already soured on Iraq. In recent polls, public support for sending more troops to Iraq ranged from 12 percent to 36 percent of Americans, depending on how the question was phrased.

"This is his last chance to convince the American public that he knows what he's doing and victory is possible," said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. "He's tied his whole presidency to this. He got us into this situation. He thinks there's a way out. This is his last chance at a last chance."

If it fails, Goldford said, Iraq "could become the all-consuming issue" for the final two years of Bush's term, crowding other presidential initiatives. "If he's totally ineffective, he leaves this ravaged sore on the body politic as well as foreign relations."

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(Steven Thomma, Warren P. Strobel, Nancy A. Youssef, Renee Schoof, Margaret Talev and Kevin G. Hall contributed.)

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Highlights of President Bush's new Iraq plan:

_Nearly 22,000 additional U.S. troops in Iraq, with about 17,500 headed to Baghdad and 4,000 to Anbar Province, a stronghold for Sunni insurgents and terrorists.

_Estimated cost: $6.8 billion extra this year, including more than $1 billion in reconstruction aid. Cost of Iraq war so far: about $286.5 billion.

_Iraq is to deploy 10,500 additional Iraqi troops and nine additional 800-man police brigades in Baghdad; all new military units to be in place by Feb. 15.

_New rules of engagement intended to end sectarian and political interference in military affairs.

_A new command structure will put Iraqis in charge of security in Baghdad, with U.S. troops embedded in Iraqi units. U.S. troops would remain under U.S. command.

_An end to open-ended commitment of U.S. troops, but no timetable for withdrawal.

_Iraqis to take lead responsibility for security throughout Iraq by November, with continued U.S. help after that.

_Deployment of more civilian reconstruction teams.

_New diplomatic efforts to get more help from Iraq's neighbors and a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

_Pressure on Iraqis to hold provincial elections, pass a new law for distributing oil revenues and other benchmarks intended to foster Iraqi unity.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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