Bush's New Plan for Iraq War a Gamble

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 11, 2007; 2:24 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's new approach to the Iraq war depends for success on another new approach, from an Iraqi leader who has failed U.S. expectations at every turn.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has failed to deliver the unified government or additional troops he promised. And he's protected his own political footing at the expense of his American sponsors' goals.

Bush announced plans Wednesday to increase U.S. forces and expand a war that most Americans oppose or want to see end quickly. Although Bush acknowledged failure or disappointment on several fronts in Iraq, he pointed no fingers directly at al-Maliki.

Instead, Bush outlined what he said is an Iraqi commitment to deploy new troops and commanders across Baghdad to boost security and build trust.

"This is a strong commitment," Bush said. "But for it to succeed, our commanders say the Iraqis will need our help."

Justifying the addition of 21,500 U.S. troops, Bush also acknowledged the extent to which he needs al-Maliki and the other way around.

Stepping back now "would force a collapse of the Iraqi government" and could mean U.S. troops staying even longer, he said.

Selling the strategy ahead of Bush's speech, White House counselor Dan Bartlett acknowledged that U.S. forces in Baghdad "sometimes were handcuffed by political interference by the Iraqi leadership." That must and will change, he said.

"The Iraqis have to step up," Bartlett said.

Bush and his advisers have said much the same thing for months, without much to show for it.

Despite pledges from al-Maliki's Shiite-led government for greater cooperation, al-Maliki has stumbled politically while the country fell deeper into chaos and distrust. And he failed to provide promised Iraqi troops last summer as part of a security crackdown in Baghdad that has produced few results.

Bush has repeatedly endorsed al-Maliki as a patriot and a strong leader. But at home, al-Maliki is increasingly seen as a partisan Shiite politically beholden to the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

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