FOR THE RECORD: IRAQ
"The Iraqis launched a surge of their own . . . and today, this grass-roots surge includes more than 80,000 Iraqi citizens who are fighting the terrorists. The government in Baghdad has stepped forward as well, adding more than 100,000 new Iraqi soldiers and police during the past year."
ANALYSIS: The citizens Bush mentioned are actually Sunni neighborhood-watch groups that have been hired by the U.S. military for $300 a month. Military officials said they are unsure what will happen when these "citizens" are no longer paid.
Indeed, Sunni officials say many Sunnis would like to join the Iraqi military or police forces but are prevented from doing so by the Shiite-led government. Meanwhile, the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party in December criticized the groups for not submitting to government authority.
There is also some uncertainty about the number of Iraqis involved in the effort. Bush administration officials repeatedly claimed last year that there were 77,000 Sunni volunteers fighting militants in Iraq, although military officials in Baghdad acknowledged in November that the actual number was just over 60,000.
Though Bush boasted that Iraqi military and police forces have grown, a commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones last fall found that Iraq's army will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven." The commission described the 25,000-member national police force as riddled with sectarianism and corruption, recommending that it be disbanded.
Last night, the president said that "on the local level, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds are beginning to come together." However, much of the once-heterogeneous city of Baghdad is still divided into Shiite and Sunni enclaves, while the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq functions almost like a separate state.
Bush praised the Iraqi parliament for passing a new de-Baathification law -- to allow some former members of Saddam Hussein's political party to participate in government -- as one of the "encouraging signs" of reconciliation, but many experts believe the law in many ways is more punishing to former Baath Party members than a much-criticized earlier law.
-- Glenn Kessler