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Middle East Analysts Skeptical About New Iraq War Strategy

Middle East analysts are expressing skepticism about President Bush's new strategy to win the war in Iraq, saying his decision to send more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops may not end the violence in Baghdad and western Anbar province.  They also question whether the Iraqi government is capable of meeting the commitments the plan calls on them to make.  VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has more in this background report from Washington.

Kenneth Pollack is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in political and military affairs.  He says he supports President Bush's decision to send more U.S. troops to Iraq in an effort to secure Baghdad and fight al-Qaida-backed insurgents in Anbar province.

Pollack considers the plan the last chance to prevent catastrophic failure in Iraq, but he fears it may not have come in time.

"Today it may just be too late," he said.  "We just don't know.  Iraq is in a very difficult situation.  Its government is completely locked up in a horrible political logjam.  There are all kinds of very bad things happening on the ground and we just don't know if even the perfect plan, executed by the most brilliant personnel, with all of the resources that they need, can still work."

The Iraqi government has promised to send more security forces to Baghdad and make political moves in an effort to reconcile bitter divisions threatening to split the country along sectarian lines.

These include passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq's ethnic groups and a $10 billion reconstruction and jobs program to be financed by Iraq's government.

Phebe Marr, a historian of modern Iraq at the U.S. Institute of Peace, says the government in Baghdad has failed to meet its promises to quell sectarian violence in the past, and questions whether it can fulfill such commitments in the future.

"Iraq is very far from achieving a new government that works and the collapse we are witnessing is likely to get worse before it gets better," she said.  "Only when the participants in Iraq recognize in this struggle for power that they are losing more than they can gain by continuing it, will it come to an end."

U.S. military leaders say a critical difference in the plan Mr. Bush announced is that Iraqi commanders have pledged to fight all criminal elements and militias, regardless of whether they represent Sunni or Shi'ite Muslims.

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, says the militias are responsible for the most dangerous violence in Iraq.

"Right now it is the militias and the death squads that are driving the ethnic cleansing and the movement towards a breakup of Iraq," he said.  "The question pretty soon is going to be whether we try to manage that process or let the militias alone drive it because it is happening.  One-hundred-thousand people a month are being driven from their homes.  Iraq looks like Bosnia more and more."

President Bush continues to reject calls to reach out diplomatically to Iraq's neighbors, particularly Syria and Iran.  Mr. Bush accuses both countries of allowing insurgents to cross their borders with Iraq, and has charged Iran with providing material support for attacks on U.S. troops.

The president has ordered the deployment of an additional U.S. aircraft carrier group to the region and has decided to deploy Patriot anti-missile systems to nearby allies.

Martin Indyk, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, says such moves send a pointed message to the Tehran government.

"We are signaling to Iran, not that we want them to help us in Iraq, but we see them as the enemy in Iraq and we intend now to take them on," he said.

It will take months before all the additional U.S. soldiers arrive in Iraq, but Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution warns that for practical and political reasons the new strategy must show results in a short period of time.

"For the reasons across the spectrum, from military capability of our Army and Marine Corps, to the patience of our people, to the upcoming presidential race and everything else, our patience for sticking with anything like this strategy is very limited and it is probably measured in terms of nine to 18 months, not years," he added.

Historian Phebe Marr of the U.S. Institute of Peace predicts it will take many years before there is a definitive outcome to the war in Iraq.

"Given the grievous mistakes made on all sides, this process is going to be very costly and time consuming and no one should expect a clear outcome in the next two years, probably even in the next decade," she noted.

Polls say U.S. public support for the war has dropped and Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the chances for success in Iraq.

Administration officials say President Bush is taking the "long view" of the situation, which might differ from popular sentiment.

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