- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

3:05 p.m.

President Bush said today that a U.S. military program to bolster Iraqi security forces in Baghdad will better address the violence there as he pledged to stand by Iraq’s new democratic government.

“Obviously the violence in Baghdad is still terrible,” Mr. Bush said during a joint White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Mr. Bush had praised Mr. al-Maliki’s signature program to improve Baghdad security during their last meeting in Baghdad in June.

Mr. Bush complimented the beleaguered leader for his courage and perseverance in the face of sectarian violence.

“He comes wondering whether or not we are committed. He hears all kinds of things coming out of the United States,” Mr. Bush said, “and I assured him that this government stands by the Iraqi people.”

Standing beside Mr. Bush during his first visit to Washington as prime minister, Mr. al-Maliki reiterated his call for an immediate end to hostilities between the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and Israel.

“I also emphasized the importance of immediate cease-fire and call on international community to support the Lebanese government, to support the Lebanese people to overcome the damage and destruction that happened,” Mr. al-Maliki said.

The Bush administration opposes an immediate cease-fire, which Mr. Bush says would only lead to more violence in the future. “I told him I support a sustainable cease-fire that will bring about an end to violence,” Mr. Bush said.

The president added that he is concerned about Lebanese civilians killed and harmed by the Israeli assault.

Israel says it is targeting what it calls terrorist strongholds in Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods and towns.

On Capitol Hill, where Mr. al-Maliki is to address Congress tomorrow, some lawmakers threatened to boycott the speech because the Iraqi leader has condemned Israel’s attacks in Lebanon.

Mr. Bush said that improved military conditions outside Baghdad will make it possible to move U.S. military police and other forces to the capital, where an estimated 100 people a day are being killed. The crimes, blamed largely on sectarian death squads, usually go unsolved.

“He believes and I believe that there needs to be more forces inside Baghdad who are willing to hold people to account,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. al-Maliki said the most important element of a new security program “is to curb the religious violence.”

Iraq’s government must have a policy that “there is no killing and discrimination against anyone,” Mr. al-Maliki said through a translator.

U.S. officials believe control of Baghdad — the political, cultural, transport and economic hub of the country — will determine the future of Iraq, but the city’s religiously mixed communities have become the focus of sectarian violence.

Iraq’s army and police, which are heavily Shiite, have had trouble winning the trust of residents of majority Sunni neighborhoods. Mr. al-Maliki’s plans for curfews and other measures have had no lasting effect.

Mr. Bush said Mr. al-Maliki and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, have agreed to deploy more American troops and Iraqi security personnel in Baghdad in the coming weeks.

The new strategy will involve “embedding more U.S. military police with Iraqi police units to make them more effective,” the president said.

A senior Defense Department official said that part of a backup force that had been stationed in Kuwait was heading into Iraq. Some U.S. military police companies were being shifted to Baghdad, involving 500 to 1,000 troops, as well as a cavalry squadron and a battalion of field artillery troops, said the official, who requested anonymity because the White House had not yet announced the plan.

In addition, the official said, at least two Iraqi military brigades will be brought into Baghdad. Forces are being shifted to meet changing security demands in different neighborhoods “to face the enemy where we think he is,” the official said.

There generally are about 3,500 troops in a brigade and more than 800 in a battalion. About 30,000 of the 127,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are in Baghdad.

Mr. al-Maliki called the two leaders’ discussions thorough and fruitful.

“We are determined to defeat terrorism, and the security plan for Baghdad has entered the second phase, and it’s achieving its objectives in hunting the terrorists and networks and eliminating [them],” Mr. al-Maliki said.

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