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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 11:17 GMT
Q&A: Bush's new Iraq strategy
US President George W Bush has ordered more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq under a new strategy where the Iraqi security forces are meant to take the lead in tackling the conflict.

Despite the growing unpopularity of the war and his party's electoral defeat to the Democrats in the mid-term Congressional elections, his plan does not feature the kind of new thinking being advocated late last year.

So what is the new plan meant to achieve?

It is meant to rally US citizens behind a longer, deeper, costlier and bloodier conflict which is still portrayed as the defining struggle in "the global war on terror", and crucial to maintaining America's security. "Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States," Mr Bush says.

It is equally an attempt to transfer responsibility for victory to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, whose own security ideas have been taken as the basis for Mr Bush's plan.

Will we see a more aggressive US strategy?

The number of US combat troops in Baghdad will be doubled and they will take on a more active role, patrolling alongside Iraqi forces inside the city rather than conducting their operations from bases on the outskirts. Unlike in the past, operations will not be restricted to mainly Sunni neighbourhoods but will include sensitive Shia areas which were once largely off-limits.

In Anbar province, the emphasis has been on "killing and capturing al-Qaeda leaders", Mr Bush says, and the US now sees "an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists" there.

Is the plan purely military?

No, it also promises $1bn (517m) in US funds, and $10bn of Iraqi government funds, for reconstruction and new jobs in Iraq.

What demands are being made of the Iraqi government?

Mr Bush makes clear that Iraqi and US forces were hampered in the past by "political and sectarian interference" when they wanted to take action in "neighbourhoods that are home to those fuelling the sectarian violence".

Now, the joint forces will have a "green light" to enter such neighbourhoods and will be given sufficient personnel to secure them after clearing out militants.

The Iraqi government is being set a series of benchmarks, Mr Bush says. As well as providing the funds for reconstruction, it is meant to take control of security in all of the country's provinces by November and is meant to pass legislation to share oil revenue among all of Iraq's ethnic groups.

What happened to the idea of engaging with Iran and Syria?

Late last year, America's independent Iraq Study Group recommended that the US should seek Iranian and Syrian support in stabilising Iraq. President Bush has ignored the suggestion.

Iran, according to Mr Bush, "is providing material support for attacks on American troops". US forces are tasked with cracking down hard on "the flow of support from Iran and Syria" to militants in Iraq. "Networks providing advanced weaponry and training" to America's enemies in Iraq will, says Mr Bush, be sought out and destroyed.

What are the new strategy's chances of success?

There is little confidence in the wider Middle East that the new strategy will work and Mr Bush's premise that the Iraqi government and its security forces have both the will and the capacity to set aside deeply entrenched sectarian loyalties is a questionable one.

Some critics also question whether even the addition of nearly 20,000 extra American troops is really enough to tackle both Shia and Sunni violence in Baghdad, a city of 6 million people.

What if it fails?

President Bush says he has made it clear to the Iraqi political leadership that US commitment is not open-ended.

But there is no reference in this speech to the possibility of US withdrawal - other than if the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people.

What support has Mr Bush's plan in Washington?

The Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress have jointly rejected the Bush plan, saying that a US military escalation "sends precisely the wrong message".

Their party's resurgence in November's mid-term elections was aided by dissatisfaction with President Bush's handling of the Iraq conflict.

Technically, now that they control Congress, the Democrats could cut off funding for the Iraq war but this would be an extremely aggressive step the party is unwilling to take.

They will probably confine themselves to holding Congressional hearings and passing non-binding resolutions.


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