Bush to Add 21,500 Troops In an Effort to Stabilize Iraq

"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," the president said. (Associated Press)
By Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 11, 2007

President Bush appealed directly to the American people last night to support a renewed campaign to pacify Iraq, calling for an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to help the beleaguered Iraqi government regain control of Baghdad while warning that he would not support an "open-ended" U.S. commitment.

In a widely anticipated nationally televised address, Bush stood in the library of the White House and soberly said he had pursued a flawed strategy and acknowledged for the first time that he had not sent enough troops to provide security for Iraqi civilians. He described the situation in Iraq as "unacceptable" to the American people and to himself.

"Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do," he said in the 20-minute speech. "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."

At a time when polls show most Americans to be sharply critical of U.S. involvement in Iraq and his party has lost control of Congress, the speech was a chance for the president to change course and convince a skeptical public that the future of Iraq is still worth fighting for. The speech was originally scheduled for before Christmas but kept getting delayed even as its major component -- a "surge" in U.S. forces -- was leaked out and was attacked by members of both parties and questioned by the president's own generals.

Bush signaled last night that he is essentially choosing to deepen U.S. involvement in Iraq, calculating that improved tactics and what he hopes will be greater commitment from the Iraqi government will result in the success that has eluded the United States.

He emphasized that Iraqi troops will take the lead in the attempt to secure Baghdad, and said that the focus of the American effort will be to advise and support Iraqi forces, with additional U.S. troops embedded in Iraqi units. Of the additional troops, about 4,000 Marines will be used outside of Baghdad, fighting Sunni extremists in Anbar province.

In some of his sharpest language to date, the president placed the responsibility of improving conditions squarely on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has not delivered on an array of pledged reforms and security measures.

"If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises," Bush said, "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."

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted after the speech, 61 percent of those surveyed said they opposed the president's plan to send additional troops. A majority of Americans -- 57 percent -- said that the United States is losing the war in Iraq. The poll of 502 randomly selected adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

For the first time since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Bush is moving forward with no guarantees of political support in Congress. Even before he began speaking, Democrats in Congress were mobilizing against him and afterward their leaders were castigating the president for "escalating" the U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"This proposal endangers our national security by placing additional burdens on our already overextended military, thereby making it even more difficult to respond to other crises," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and other leaders said in a joint statement.

Republicans, however, seemed divided on Bush's plan. Congressional leaders backed the president but warned -- as did Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a likely 2008 GOP front-runner -- of the dangerous stakes. "Is it going to be a strain on the military? Absolutely," McCain said. "Casualties are going to go up."

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