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Three 'more' options for Bush and Maliki

A leaked memo suggests three ways the US might help the Iraqi leader: more troops, more money, and more diplomacy.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 30, 2006



CAIRO

Even before President Bush was scheduled to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan to talk about how to stop the spiraling violence in Iraq, the administration had already made clear many of the options.

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As outlined in a Nov. 8 memo from national security adviser Stephen Hadley and provided to The New York Times, as well as in discussions among key advisers to the president, the ideas from the US can be boiled down to "three mores": More troops, more money, more regional diplomacy.

The first more is what some advisers to the Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, are calling the "surge" option, essentially pouring thousands more American troops into the country in the hope that boots on the ground will translate into law and order. Baghdad, the religiously mixed capi- tal where death squads now roam, would be the principal beneficiary.

In his memo, Mr. Hadley refers to a "four brigade gap" in combat power in Baghdad, implying that US officials believe the city needs roughly 13,000 additional soldiers. While he says he hopes that local troops will be mustered to do the job, he writes that "we might also need to fill the [gap] ... with coalition forces if reliable Iraqi forces are not identified."

While that would be politically unpopular at home, with anger over the extended war in Iraq leading to the major Republican reverses in national elections this month, Bush could use his meeting with Maliki as a springboard to make this case, since Maliki himself has said he would welcome more troops and resources to pacify the country.

But Maliki, from the Shiite Islamist's Dawa Party, has also frequently complained that he has insufficient direct control of troops on the ground, arguing that it's unfair to expect him to deliver results when the US calls the shots on troop deployments.

He's expected to press Bush for more control during the summit in Amman. That's something the Hadley memo recommends – but contingent on Maliki first meeting US conditions, such as cutting off his close relations with Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, purging divisive Shiite leaders from his cabinet, and suspending the de-Baathification program designed to purge former loyalists of Saddam Hussein from the government.

While it's unclear if meeting these demands is within Maliki's power, Hadley's memo also provides reason for the US to worry about giving the prime minister more control over the Iraqi military.

It cites "repeated reports" from US generals on the ground of a failure to provide government services in Sunni Arab areas and "intervention by the prime minister's office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones."

That sort of behavior has fed Iraq's worsening civil war, creating the impression among Sunnis, who were a privileged class under Saddam Hussein, that they have little future in the new Iraq.

Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army has been blamed by the US and Sunni Arab politicians for a string of sectarian atrocities in and around Baghdad, while aides to Sadr counter that the force is largely defensive and is needed because of the Iraqi government and US failure to stop terrorist attacks on Shiites.

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