`Surge' may become long-term
Bush's justification for troop boost hinges on political progress in Iraq
Associated PressPosted on Charlotte.com on Sun, Apr. 22, 2007
WASHINGTON --The Pentagon is laying the groundwork to extend the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq. At the same time, the administration is warning Iraqi leaders that the boost in forces could be reversed if political reconciliation is not evident by summer.
This approach underscores the central difficulty facing President Bush. If political progress is not possible in the relatively short term, the justification for sending thousands more U.S. troops to Baghdad -- and accepting the rising U.S. combat death toll that has resulted -- will disappear. That, in turn, would put even more pressure on Bush to yield to the Democratic-led push to wind down the war in coming months.
If the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki does manage to achieve the political milestones demanded by Washington, the U.S. military probably will be told to sustain the troop buildup much longer than originally foreseen -- possibly well into 2008. Thus the early planning for keeping it up beyond late summer.
More than half of the extra 21,500 combat troops designated for Baghdad duty have arrived; the rest are due by June. Already it is evident that putting them in the most hotly contested parts of the capital is taking a toll. An average of 22 U.S. troops have died per week in April, the highest rate so far this year.
"This is certainly a price that we're paying for this increased security," Adm. William Fallon, the senior U.S. commander in the Middle East, told a House committee Wednesday. He also said the United States does not have "a ghost of a chance" of success in Iraq unless it can create "stability and security."
The idea of the troop increase, originally billed by the administration as a temporary "surge," is not to defeat the insurgency. That is not thought possible in the near term. The purpose is to contain the violence -- in particular, the sect-on-sect killings in Baghdad -- long enough to create an environment in which Iraqi political leaders can move toward conciliation and ordinary Iraqis are persuaded of a viable future.
So far the results are mixed, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week during a visit to Iraq that he wants to see faster political progress by the Iraqis. Analysis
• The Fallujah city council chairman, a critic of al-Qaida who took the job after his three predecessors were assassinated, was killed Saturday.
• At least 38 people were killed or found dead elsewhere in Iraq on Saturday.
• Three U.S. soldiers were killed and six were wounded Saturday in separate attacks in Baghdad and southwest of the capital, the military said.
• Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki prepared to begin an Arab tour today that will take him to Egypt, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Oman, his adviser Yassin Majid said.
• A purported Taliban statement demanded the release of a number of the group's fighters and the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the freedom of two kidnapped French aid workers and three Afghan colleagues kidnapped April 3.