Bush Works To Rally Support for Iraq 'Surge'

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

President Bush yesterday began promoting his plan to send more troops to Iraq, bringing more than 30 Republican senators to the White House as part of a major campaign to rally the American people behind another effort to stabilize the country.

Senators who met with Bush said the president made it clear that he is planning to add as many as 20,000 U.S. troops to help quell violence in Baghdad. They also said the president is arguing that his new plan has a better chance for success than past plans because of a greater willingness of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to commit Iraqi forces against all perpetrators of violence, including Shiite militias.

"It was clear to me that a decision has been made for a surge" of at least 20,000 additional troops, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said in a conference call with reporters. Smith said Bush believes "that the political processes have been overtaken by sectarian violence and that sectarian violence must be quelled so political processes can be restored."

Aides said Bush will formally unveil his new plans for Iraq in a nationally televised address from the White House tomorrow night; the speech looms as one of the most significant of his tenure. Even administration officials and friendly Republicans said the bar is much higher for Bush than with past speeches on Iraq, given the widespread disenchantment over the war and the deep skepticism, shared even by some Republicans, that more troops are part of the answer.

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, six in 10 respondents said the war is not worth fighting, three-quarters disapproved of how Bush has handled the situation, and there was no consensus about how the United States should adjust its policies in Iraq. Only 17 percent called for an increase in U.S. forces, the "surge" believed to be a centerpiece of the new Bush plan.

Bush intends to present his revised strategy as being in support of Maliki's new plan for securing Baghdad, which the prime minister outlined on Saturday, senior U.S. officials said. The mission will include an understanding that joint U.S.-Iraqi forces will confront the Mahdi Army -- the biggest, best-armed militia and one that Maliki, a fellow Shiite, has been reluctant to face down -- as well as other illegal armed factions, both Shiite and Sunni.

The United States hopes to avoid conducting large-scale operations that take it into Sadr City -- the capital's sprawling Shiite slum, with about 2 million people who overwhelmingly support Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr. "Iraqis will take on this plan and lead it. We will be there to support them and be there to help them hold it," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the plan.

But in practice, U.S. forces have often ended up in the forefront of joint combat operations.

The president will also announce expanded U.S. teams, combining civilian and military personnel, to deploy immediately after neighborhoods have been cleared of insurgents or sectarian militias, a U.S. official said.

"It's the biggest speech of his six years," said Ken Duberstein, who was White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan. "If the American people tune him out, the next two years will be very rocky. He really needs to sell the American people that this is a strategy that can be accomplished."

Duberstein said Bush "needs to explain to the American people the lessons that he has learned, which will persuade them that he has gotten the message for a new approach to Iraq."

Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster, said the speech is "going to be a crucial component of how the American people re-look at the president for the last two years" of his term. The challenge facing the White House, he said, "is people have to view the speech and say, 'Oh, this is something different, and he's got a plan and it's got a shot at improving the situation. It's not just, quote, stay the course, unquote.' "

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