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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 11:48 GMT
US starts to pin blame on Iraqis
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The fact that President Bush is having to meet the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in Jordan is a sign of how desperate things have become in Iraq.

Nouri al-Maliki
Iraq's prime minister is under attack in a US government memo

It's just too dangerous for him to go there.

Indeed, the fact that there is a meeting at all at this stage indicates the seriousness of the decisions facing Mr Bush as he reassesses US policy in Iraq.

The talks come as confidence among American people and politicians that this is a winnable war is falling ever more rapidly.

Instead, they see their army in trouble, their ally in chaos and their opponents in glee.

One opponent, Iran, has taken to lecturing the Americans that they must leave Iraq if peace is to be restored.

'Resorting to violence'

Indeed the phrase "civil war" is now being used more and more often in the US. It might or might not accurately describe the events in Iraq. The former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said there was civil war back in March.

People come up to me in increasing numbers and suggest that no matter what we do in Iraq, the Iraqis are incapable of solving their own problems through the political process
US Senator Lindsey Graham

But it is important for the way it reflects the growing US view that there is not much they can do about Iraq. Some see in that a way of preparing the ground for withdrawal.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said recently at a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

"People in South Carolina come up to me in increasing numbers and suggest that no matter what we do in Iraq, the Iraqis are incapable of solving their own problems through the political process and will resort to violence, and we need to get the hell out of there."

Question of vision

The trend in Washington is to start laying the blame on the Iraqis, in particular on Mr Maliki himself.

The President's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, a man seen as methodical and cautious, has written a memo - dated 8 November and leaked to the New York Times - casting doubt on Mr Maliki's ability to get control.

Mr Hadley analyses what he thinks is "a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad" and asks: "We need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others. Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power?"

I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete
President Bush
He outlines a number of steps the US could take to bolster Mr Maliki and mentions that the US might have to fill what he calls the "current four-brigade gap in Baghdad".

Bush resolute

Mr Bush himself indicated at the Nato summit in Riga that he would be "flexible" in Iraq and would "make the changes necessary to succeed".

But he showed the determination he has always displayed over Iraq when he added: "But there's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

He rejected the use of "civil war" as a term to describe the fighting in Iraq, preferring to say: "The battles in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a struggle between moderation and extremism that is unfolding across the broader Middle East."

So one should not think that President Bush is about to fold his hand.

Indeed this is more of what he said in Riga: "I know some in my country, and some here in Europe, are pessimistic about the prospects of democracy and peace in the Middle East.

"Some doubt whether the people of that region are ready for freedom, or want it badly enough, or have the courage to overcome the forces of totalitarian extremism. I understand these doubts, but I do not share them. I believe in the universality of freedom."

Antidote to optimism

Nevertheless, difficult decisions lie ahead for him.

Another leaked memo, this time in the Washington Post, is a strong antidote to any optimism about Iraq.

Written by Marine intelligence Colonel Peter Devlin it basically says the war in Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold, is unwinnable because al-Qaeda's grip is too strong.

"Despite the success of the December elections, nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by al Qaeda in Iraq," he says.

It would need another US division of up to 20,000 troops to make any difference, he notes.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


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