- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s government gave a tepid endorsement yesterday of President Bush’s plan to boost U.S. troops, amid condemnation from Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers, ordinary Iraqis and criticism throughout the Muslim world.

“As Iraqis and as an elected government, we welcome the American commitment for success,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“The Iraqi government also is committed to succeed,” he said.

Mr. al-Rikabi said that the Iraqi government must take the lead in the military action. The plan envisions a “surge” of about 10,000 to 12,000 Iraqi troops to secure Baghdad neighborhoods, along with about 16,000 extra U.S. troops in the capital.

Sunni lawmaker Hussein al-Falluji said the additional U.S. presence will only boost the death toll.

“Bush’s plan could be the last attempt to fix the chaos created after the invasion of Iraq. Yet, sending more troops will not end the problem; on the contrary, there will be more bloodshed,” he said.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said the “plan will fail. Sending more troops and financial support will not help if there is no sectarian and political solution.”

Abdel-Karim Jassim, a 44-year-old Shi’ite trader, said he had hoped Mr. Bush would come up with something other than the troop increase.

“Sending more troops will not solve the problem,” he said.

Iran and Syria denounced the U.S. troop surge and also condemned the plan, a predictable response given Mr. Bush’s vow during his Wednesday speech to cut off Syrian and Iranian aid to militants and insurgents.

But there was widespread skepticism in the Arab world that the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government of Mr. al-Maliki will act against Shi’ite militias and death squads.

Mr. Bush “is drowning and trying to get out of the Iraqi trap, but he’s submerging deeper,” said Salem al-Falahat, head of Jordan’s hard-line Muslim Brotherhood Movement, warning that the plan “aims to plunge the region into more destruction and bloodshed and leave Iraq with sectarian hatred for many decades to come.”

Mustafa al-Ani, a military analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said the American military has to take down the Shi’ite militias — particularly the feared Mahdi Army, loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an ally of Mr. al-Maliki. Otherwise, the United States will lose any support among Iraq’s Sunnis.

“They need to use the same force against the Mahdi Army as they do against al Qaeda. They need to establish new credibility and they must be evenhanded,” Mr. al-Ani said.

Mr. al-Maliki has resisted U.S. pressure to move against Sheik al-Sadr’s militia, but Iraqi officials said Wednesday the prime minister agreed to crack down, warning his ally that “there will be no escape from attack.”

But many in the Arab world profoundly distrust Mr. al-Maliki’s government, believing it is serving the interests of Iran, which is predominantly Shi’ite,

“Al-Maliki’s government is part of the problem, not the solution,” Areeb el-Rentawi, head of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, in Amman, Jordan, told Al Jazeera satellite TV.

Mr. Bush said he planned to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq, with about 16,000 deployed in and around Baghdad.

“Whatever the size of the troops, as long as this is a war between a regular army, in the face of gang-style militant groups, Americans will fail,” said Galal Nassar, a fellow with the Nasser Military Academy in Egypt.

“Twenty-one thousand soldiers are a drop in a sea,” said Ayed al-Manna, a political science teacher at the Arab Open University in Kuwait. “More U.S. troops would only mean more soldiers to be hunted by insurgents in the absence of a defined plan by Americans and Iraqis.”

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