- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More than three years after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush yesterday acknowledged that the violence there is “still terrible” and announced that U.S. troops from across Iraq will be redeployed to the capital in an attempt to quell the bloodshed.

The president, in a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House, differed from his counterpart regarding the ongoing battle between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. Mr. Bush reiterated his call for a “sustainable” cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, but Mr. al-Maliki urged an “immediate” cease-fire.

Mr. Bush said improved military conditions outside Baghdad make it possible to move U.S. troops and military police to the city, where the United Nations says more than 100 civilians a day are killed by car bombs and sectarian death squads.

“Obviously, the violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and, therefore, there needs to be more troops,” Mr. Bush said in the East Room.

To that end, U.S. commanders in Iraq “have recommended, as a result of working with the prime minister, based upon his recommendation, that we increase the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad, alongside of Iraqi troops,” Mr. Bush said.

Under the new plan, thousands of U.S. troops will be sent to Baghdad in the coming weeks to try to retake control of neighborhoods now ceded to Sunni insurgents or Shi’ite militias.

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

But it is not clear how many troops will be in Baghdad under the new plan. About two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the number of Iraqi and U.S. troops in the capital had recently grown from 40,000 to 55,000.

Like Mr. Bush, Mr. al-Maliki, on his first trip to the United States since becoming prime minister two months ago, also sought to put a good spin on security in Baghdad, despite abandoning a plan he devised and deployed just six weeks ago.

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

The Iraqi prime minister, who did not smile once during the 30-minute press conference, expressed optimism that a joint U.S.-Iraqi effort to tamp down violence in Baghdad will work.

“God willing, there will be no civil war in Iraq.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill, though, were far less optimistic.

“President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld continue to deny that Iraq is in a civil war,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. “But the increasing sectarian violence, the ruthless death squads, and the increasingly powerful role of the privately armed militias tell a very different story.”

On the developing situation in Lebanon, Mr. Bush said the only way to secure a sustainable cease-fire is “to address the root causes of the violence in the area. And, therefore, our mission and our goal is to have a lasting peace, not a temporary peace, but something that lasts,” Mr. Bush said.

Emphasizing the need for an immediate cease-fire, Mr. al-Maliki implored the “international community to support the Lebanese government and support the Lebanese people to overcome the damage and destruction that happened.”

A group of House Democrats circulated a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert urging the Illinois Republican to get an apology from Mr. al-Maliki for denouncing Israel or cancel his address today to a joint meeting of Congress.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said that he doubted he would attend and that there were a “large number of people [in Congress] who were uncomfortable” with Mr. al-Maliki’s condemnation of Israel’s attacks in Lebanon and apparent support for Hezbollah.

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