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Bush to reveal new Iraq strategy

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

President Bush is hoping to reset the political debate tomorrow night and spur Congress to reconsider what can be accomplished in Iraq when he lays out his new war strategy, which is expected to include a temporary increase of 20,000 troops.

The president put the finishing touches on the new diplomatic and military teams yesterday that will put his plan into place, tapping the current ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to become ambassador to the United Nations and naming Ryan C. Crocker, the ambassador to Pakistan, to replace Mr. Khalilzad in Baghdad.

That comes two months after Mr. Bush named a new secretary of defense and just days after he nominated new military leaders to oversee the conflict.

The Pentagon has drawn up options for sending about 20,000 troops, or four brigades, whose main task would be to quell the violence in Baghdad, block by block, and not let insurgents return once they are routed.

Some of the increase would come from keeping some units in Iraq longer than planned, sending other units earlier than planned and possibly diverting troops from other regions.

The White House is also creating an economic package that will be tied to certain conditions. The figure of $5 billion has been mentioned. Congress has appropriated more than $30 billion in reconstruction and redevelopment money since the war began in 2003.

White House press secretary Tony Snow would not talk about details of the president's 9 p.m. speech but said the president knows he has a job to do persuading lawmakers and the American public to support the effort.

"It's important to rebuild the sense of political unity," he said.

Many Democrats have already lined up against the strategy, saying Mr. Bush is trying to escalate U.S. involvement rather than begin withdrawing U.S. forces, as they want. But it was not clear what options are open to them.

Sen. Barack Obama yesterday said he is "investigating" whether Congress could block funding for a troop surge "without potentially reducing the resources that are available to the troops that are" in Iraq.

"It's not clear that that can be done, that you can segment off budgets for the troops that are already there from additional troop levels," said Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat. "It creates a difficult situation for Democrats."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, said it is "very complicated" to chop a troops appropriations bill into pieces, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said withholding funds for U.S. troops is "off the table."

Mr. Snow said the White House hopes critics take time to evaluate what Mr. Bush proposes.

"I know it's tempting to think: Boy, this is going to set off big old political firestorm, and it very well may. But on the other hand, it may actually set off a period of reflection and constructive activity," Mr. Snow said.

The president does have some supporters.

Sen. Joe Lieberman yesterday renewed his calls for Congress to support sending roughly 20,000 more troops to Iraq.

"In war, there are two exit strategies. One is called victory. The other is called defeat," said Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent. "America has too much on the line in Iraq to accept defeat."

He and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, sent a letter to the president urging him to increase troop levels and calling redeployment and withdrawal "the option of losing."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Bush's strongest Iraq war ally, said he will make it clear this week that Britain will not send more troops to Iraq, London's Daily Mail reported. It said Mr. Blair will insist that the United Kingdom will stick to its own strategy of gradually handing over to the Iraqi army.

In the run-up to the speech, Mr. Bush has revamped his diplomatic and military teams.

Last week, Mr. Bush nominated John D. Negroponte to assume the open slot as deputy secretary of state and tapped retired Navy Adm. Mike McConnell to take Mr. Negroponte's old post as director of national intelligence.

As for the military team, Mr. Bush accepted the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a day after the November elections, saying he wanted a "fresh perspective" on Iraq. He is also replacing Gen. John Abizaid, his top regional commander for Iraq, with his Pacific commander, Adm. William J. Fallon. In doing so, he is bypassing the man who many thought would get the job, Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who served last year as the tactical commander in Iraq.

The top commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George Casey, is being replaced by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who led the training of Iraqi forces earlier in the war. Gen. Casey will be nominated as Army chief of staff, as Gen. Peter Schoomaker retires.

* Jon Ward and Brian DeBose contributed to this report.