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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 15:12 GMT
Bush Iraq plan likely to cost dear
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Washington

Smoke rises over Baghdad's Haifa Street following US bombardment
Mr Bush conceded attempts to secure Baghdad had failed
On Wednesday night, before an audience of millions of Americans, President Bush conceded that strategy in Iraq was not working, and that this was "unacceptable".

But this was no admission of defeat.

Quite the contrary: it was a show of humility very deliberately deployed - an attempt to rally Americans behind an engagement in Iraq that will be longer, deeper and more costly in money and blood.

The central focus of President Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq is Baghdad. Eighty per cent of the violence in Iraq, we were told, takes place within a 30-mile (48km) radius of Baghdad.

The president said that Baghdad had not been secured in the past because "there were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighbourhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents".

A new security plan for Baghdad - formulated by the Iraqi government - had been presented to Mr Bush when he travelled to Jordan for a meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, late last year, according to a senior administration official.

The White House and the US military had reviewed it, said the president, and supported it. And it is this plan that is at the heart of the president's strategy.

Clear, hold, build

The plan, in essence, calls for a new battle for Baghdad - a battle conducted by Iraqi troops in the lead, with Americans in support.

The number of US and Iraqi combat troops in Baghdad will be doubled.

Much of '07 will be spent getting Baghdad under control
Retired Gen Jack Keane
They will deploy into neighbourhoods throughout the city - one American battalion (about 600 men) for every district.

They will clear these neighbourhoods of insurgents and militias, then will hold them against the insurgents' return, then rebuild services and infrastructure with fresh infusions of cash.

Clear. Hold. Build. This is not a new strategy - it has been central to US operations in Iraq for a long while.

But, according to retired Gen Jack Keane, who advised the White House on these plans, the manner of its implementation will be new.

"We're going to secure the population for the first time," he said. "What we've never been able to do in the past is have enough forces to stay in those neighbourhoods and protect the people."

"Much of '07", he added, "will be spent getting Baghdad under control."

And in 2008, said Gen Keane, the same process would be repeated in Anbar province, where the Sunni insurgency remains active and lethal.

Taking on militias

But this strategy for securing the Iraqi capital is heavily dependent on the willingness and ability of the Iraqi government and armed forces to confront and disarm insurgents and militias.

The senior administration official conceded that there was "a lot of scepticism about Prime Minister Maliki" and his ability to deliver on his commitments.

Followers of Moqtada Sadr
The followers of Moqtada Sadr may resist US efforts
But he said that within the Iraqi government there now was a "recognition of the imperative to act."

Central to the new strategy, said the official, was the fact that the Maliki government has made a commitment to tackling sectarian militias in every district of Baghdad.

This means that Iraqi and US troops could find themselves fighting the militia of Moqtada Sadr - the largest, most powerful and the most murderous of the Shia groups, and one which controls much of eastern Baghdad.

The potential for increased violence here is very great.

2007 is going to be a difficult year - there is going to be violence
Dan Bartlett,
Senior Bush adviser
And the worst kind of violence: dirty street fighting in some of Baghdad's poorest neighbourhoods, places where America's enormous technological advantage over its adversaries is eroded.

In their neighbourhood bases, US and Iraqi troops will be very exposed to attack.

One of President Bush's most senior advisers, Dan Bartlett, told the BBC: "2007 is going to be a difficult year. There is going to be violence."

Mr Bartlett pointed to the recent fighting around the Haifa Street district of Baghdad in which US and Iraqi forces have engaged Sunni insurgents.

Scores of insurgents have been killed in protracted actions which made use of US air power.

"Just in the last 24 hours in Haifa Street," Mr Bartlett said hours before the president's speech, "we see the kind of violence we can expect in the coming year."

Confronting Iran

The president's speech was notably lacking in diplomatic initiatives.

The recommendations of the Iraq Study group - that America engage Iran and Syria immediately and seek their support in stabilising Iraq - were nowhere to be seen.

An Iraqi army Humvee at a checkpoint in Baghdad
The Iraqi army and police are to take the lead
Instead, Mr Bush took a very confrontational tone.

He reminded Americans - and Iranians - that he had ordered an additional aircraft carrier strike group to the waters of the Gulf.

And he said the US would "seek out and destroy" networks that were providing advanced weaponry to America's enemies in Iraq.

This appears to be a reference to Iranian covert operations groups which, US intelligence officials say, are operating in southern Iraq.

Many members of the Democratic Party - who just last week took power in both houses of Congress - have expressed opposition to the president's plan.

Some Republicans, notably Senators Sam Brownback and Norm Coleman, have also split with the president.

The Democratic leadership has demanded the president consult with them before implementing his plan - something he seems unlikely to do.

Short of cutting off funding for the Iraq war - an extremely aggressive step the Democrats are unwilling to take - there is little they can do to stop Mr Bush now.

Conviction above all

President Bush is embarking on a new course in Iraq with a great many attendant dangers and something far short of unanimous political support at home.

He is isolated, but emphatic that Iraq must not be lost.

His new strategy in Iraq is an intensification of America's role and depends heavily on Prime Minister Maliki to deliver.

It appears to place many more American soldiers in harm's way for an indeterminate period.

It appears to entirely disregard any and all pressure from the Democrats and ordinary Americans to begin scaling down America's presence in Iraq.

But such is this president - a leader who places conviction above all.

President Bush announces his new Iraq strategy

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