Bush's New Plan for Iraq Echoes Key Parts of Earlier Memo

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2007

President Bush's new Iraq policy was said to be the product of weeks of meetings, discussions and analysis by the president and his national security advisers. Yet core elements of the plan were contained in a classified memo that national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley sent to members of Bush's Cabinet on Nov. 8 -- a month before the bipartisan Iraq Study Group issued its report.

Most news accounts about the Hadley memo, which was published by the New York Times in late November, focused on his critique of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But the 1,800-word document was composed mostly of recommendations for Bush on how to bolster Maliki and improve the security environment.

One key recommendation: filling "the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad with coalition forces if reliable Iraqi forces are not identified." A brigade contains 3,000 to 5,000 troops, so the Hadley memo contemplated roughly 16,000 additional troops.

The president announced yesterday that he would send five additional brigades to Baghdad. An aide said that would total 17,500 troops.

In rebutting criticism that the administration ignored most of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, a senior administration official pointed yesterday to the fact that the White House accepted its suggestion to embed additional U.S. forces with Iraqi troops. Now, they will go all the way down to the company level.

But the Hadley memo explicitly urged such a step. "If we expect him to adopt a nonsectarian security agenda," he wrote of Maliki, "we must ensure he has reasonably nonsectarian security institutions to execute it -- such as through a more robust embedding program."

Hadley also called for an "intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action."

As part of the new plan, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the Middle East tomorrow, stopping in Riyadh, to enlist greater Arab support for the Iraqi government -- and to try to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian talks, a key concern of Saudi leaders.

Much of the memo focused on how to help Maliki "form a new political base among moderate politicians," allowing him to free his government from the sway of radical Shiite elements. The United States "would likely need to use our own political capital to press moderates to align themselves with Maliki's new political bloc," Hadley wrote.

Under the new plan, the Iraqi government is supposed to allow a "moderate coalition" to emerge as its new political center.

Hadley also described steps that Maliki could make to "demonstrate that his government serves all ethnic communities," such as "shake up his cabinet by appointing nonsectarian, capable technocrats."

This happens to be another key goal of the new plan. The White House said yesterday that the Iraqi government made a commitment to "reform its cabinet to provide even-handed service delivery."

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that "many of the ideas in the Hadley memo are in the strategy."

But he said that "when we say the strategy is new, we mean we -- us and the Iraqis -- weren't doing it before, say, November 7. We don't mean no one thought of it before that date."

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