Friday, September 14, 2007


Bush plans longterm stay in Iraq

(The Guardian) - George Bush last night called on Americans to support an "enduring relationship" with Iraq, in a speech delivered hours after a key Sunni tribal ally, portrayed as symbolic of a potential turnaround for the US in the war, was killed by a roadside bomb. The president's prime-time address from the Oval Office marked the clearest acknowledgement to date from the White House that it envisages a long-term strategic relationship with the government in Baghdad, requiring the presence of US forces for years to come.
It follows repeated warnings from US officials of a "proxy war" with Iran. Last night's 18-minute address had been designed to unite a war-weary public and a restive Congress behind Mr Bush's plan for maintaining the bulk of US forces in Iraq for the duration of his presidency.
The president attempted to soften his proposal by endorsing the recommendation this week of the commander of US forces, General David Petraeus, for a phased withdrawal of 30,000 troops sent to Iraq this year in the temporary "surge". The first withdrawals of 5,700 soldiers could start by Christmas, the president said last night. However, even those drawdowns were contingent on the situation on the ground.
"The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is 'return on success'," Mr Bush stipulated, in advance excerpts of the speech released by the White House. "The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home." Earlier yesterday, Bush administration officials had said that decisions on any further withdrawals beyond the 5,700 would be deferred to March 2008, when Gen Petraeus is due to deliver another progress report on the war to Congress.
Mr Bush's plan to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq flies in the face of opinion polls which show a majority of Americans support an exit from the war zone. He acknowledged those frustrations last night, saying: "Some say the gains we are making in Iraq come too late. They are mistaken. It is never too late to deal a blow to al-Qaida. It is never too late to advance freedom. And it is never too late to support our troops in a fight they can win."
However, the fragility of America's claim of the possibility of success in Iraq was dramatically underlined by the killing of a Sunni sheikh in Anbar province. Abdul Sattar Abu Risha's turnaround from attacking US forces to an alliance with them against al-Qaida had been held up by the Pentagon and the White House as a beacon of hope for Iraq.
Sheikh Abu Risha was seen as the living embodiment of cooperation between US forces and local clans in Anbar. He was blown up by a car or roadside bomb near his home in Ramadi yesterday morning. Such gains were so crucial to Mr Bush's calculations on selling his war plan to the US public that he did not even go to Baghdad during his lightning trip to Iraq. He spent his entire visit at the US air base in Anbar, meeting Iraqi tribal leaders and members of the Baghdad government. On his seven-hour visit, Mr Bush was photographed shaking hands with the sheikh, and the president hailed him as a hero.
In his current reporting on the state of the war to politicians in Washington, Gen Petraeus had called the rejection of al-Qaida by Sunni tribes "the most significant development of the past eight months". Anbar was the one bright spot in Gen Petraeus's report. Only a year ago, US officials had given Anbar up as politically lost.
Sheikh Abu Risha had been the most visible local advocate of that turnabout, giving interviews to Arabic satellite channels calling for an end to extremism. The general had said that it was the success of America's alliance with Sunni tribes under the sheikh in driving al-Qaida out of Anbar which had persuaded him that it was possible for the US to begin pulling out its forces without compromising security on the ground.

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