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Middle East Analysts Question Bush Strategy for Iraq


President Bush used his State of the Union address to call on members of Congress to support his new strategy for Iraq, which includes sending more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops in an effort to quell raging sectarian violence in Baghdad and fight insurgents in al-Anbar province. Some Middle East analysts are questioning the plan, and many Democratic and some Republican members of Congress are opposed to adding more American soldiers to the fight. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has more in this background report from Washington.

President Bush says his plan demands new commitments from the Iraqi government while giving U.S. forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission.

Mr. Bush says America's goal is to build a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security and is an ally in the war on terror.

In his State of the Union address the president urged members of Congress to support his strategy, which he says can turn events in Iraq toward victory.

"We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions," said Mr. Bush. "And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way."

While Congress is debating non-binding resolutions opposing the troop surge, this is not expected to stop the president's plan to send the additional troops to Iraq.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, questions whether additional soldiers can suppress the sectarian violence in Baghdad.

"We have seen when we have surged twice in the last six months the violence and death of Americans and Iraqis have increased dramatically," he said. "An increased surge will only create more targets, put more American lives at risk, increase Iraqi dependence on the United States, further undermine the precarious readiness of our ground forces. If we send all the troops that are supposed to go we will have no strategic reserve left in the United States."

President Bush argues that his latest plan differs from previous operations because of commitments from Iraq's political leaders.

Those promises include providing armed forces as part of the effort to bring security to Baghdad, sharing oil revenue, spending billions to rebuild the country and holding local elections.

A Middle East specialist with the International Crisis Group, Robert Malley, expresses concerns about the reliability of Iraqi security forces.

"On the issue of training I think one of the big misconceptions from the beginning of the war is this notion that by training the Iraqis in the abstract is going to make a difference," he explained. "It is a question of loyalty and allegiance that matters and if they are loyal to their group or to their militia it doesn't matter how well trained they are. That is why so often trained troops have not performed."

Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a major critic of the Iraq conflict, set off a political firestorm when he first spoke out against the war in November 2005.

Murtha says there is no military solution to the hostilities in Iraq.

"Historically, whether it is India, Algeria or Afghanistan, foreign occupations do not work," he said. "In fact, they incite civil unrest. Our military remains the greatest military in the world, but there are limits to its ability to control a population that considers them as occupiers."

Retired General Richard Myers, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes more troops can make a difference on the streets of Baghdad.

Myers says because the president's plan is multi-dimensional, it has a better chance of success.

"The thing I like about the strategy is that it is not just a troop increase, there is also a political dimension where the Iraqi government is held accountable and there is an economic dimension," he explained. "Those have to go hand in hand. To often we focus on purely the military dimension of this problem. It is much more than that."

Current U.S. military commanders have endorsed the president's new strategy, although no one is saying how long the troop surge will last.

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