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Bush Iraq Plan Meets With Skepticism in Middle East


President Bush's plan to increase troop levels in Iraq is being met with skepticism in the Middle East. Many Arab analysts say, there can be no military solution to the crisis, and urge more effort toward political reconciliation. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Newspapers and political analysts throughout the Arab world have been almost uniformly critical of the Bush administration's new plan for Iraq, saying it could actually widen Iraq's sectarian divisions, and increase the violence.

Qatar University political science professor Mohamed Al-Musfir said, increasing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will only further anger the Arab public.

He says sending new troops to Iraq will not solve America's problem in Iraq or in the Middle East.

President Bush has called on his Middle East allies to support the Iraqi government but the Shi'ite-led government of Iraq is viewed with much suspicion in the region.

"I don't think that the appeal to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other friendly countries in the region will help the United States, unless the United States has the good strategy to work out a reconciliation in Iraq," said Hassan Nafaa, head of the political science department at Cairo University. "The military option will fail. The political solution in Iraq has to be based in reconciliation, and all the prerequisites for reconciliation in Iraq [are] not there. And, I think, the Iraqi government itself is a problem, and is not willing to open up to other factions."

The editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper, The Arab News, Khaled Al-Maeena, says he sees the widening violence as a problem Iraqis need to solve themselves.

"On what basis and how would the Saudi government, and the Jordanian and the Egyptians and the Gulf countries support the Iraqi government? I think the support for the Iraqi government should come from the Iraqi people itself," he said.

He and other analysts echoed the findings of the Iraq Study Group, which said the U.S. should engage with Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria. Hassan Nafaa of Cairo University says he did not hear that in President Bush's speech.

"There must be an opening up to Iran and Syria," he added. "Unless you have a dialogue with Iran and Syria, you will not be able to find a working exit from Iraq. But in the speech, I have noticed that he is taking a tough stand against Iran and Syria."

The announcement of the troop increase comes as relations between the U.S. and its Arab allies have become increasingly strained over Iraq and other issues.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to the Middle East in the next few days to promote the Iraq plan and discuss other regional issues, including Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Al-Maeena, the Saudi newspaper editor, says it will not be the most cordial visit.

"Do not be fooled, and I say this loud and clear, let us not be fooled by joint statements at the end of Condoleezza Rice's visits to any country in the Arab world," he noted. "Because deep inside, there is resentment, and people are upset."

There has been little official reaction from Washington's Arab allies to the troop-increase announcement. A spokesman for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak refused to comment, but the Iranian government quickly denounced the plan.

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