Sunday, January 14, 2007

The military architect of the Iraq troop “surge” plan is criticizing the Bush administration, claiming the Pentagon is watering down the proposal for political reasons.

“You cannot try and do this piecemeal. We have to implement the whole package,” retired Gen. John M. Keane told the Sunday Telegraph. The former Army vice chief of staff co-authored the “Choosing Victory” strategy paper, the main points of which were adopted by President Bush for his Iraq war plan.

Gen. Keane expressed his alarm after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testified on Capitol Hill that the troop buildup was expected to last “a matter of months” — rather than the 18 months proposed by Gen. Keane.

Mr. Gates also said the full deployment of 21,500 additional troops, announced by Mr. Bush last week, might not be implemented. He suggested that only two or three of the five brigades proposed for Baghdad could be deployed initially, while the rest are held in reserve.

“That makes no military sense, although it might seem to make political sense,” Gen. Keane said. President Bush has been criticized in the past for not listening to the advice of his top generals.

“We need all five brigades in Baghdad as soon as possible. It will take three to four months to clear neighborhoods of death squads and insurgents, and at least the rest of the year to establish proper security for the population,” Gen. Keane said. “If you only wanted to stage a clearance operation, you could do that in a few months. But if we left then, the militia would just return as they have in the past.”

Mr. Bush’s plans have been condemned by Democrats and some Republicans.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, predicted last week that the plan would be “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in the country since Vietnam — if it is carried out.”

Some Democratic members of Congress are exploring the possibility of blocking funding for additional troops in Iraq.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki raised fresh concerns about his commitment to the new strategy when he appointed a little-known officer, Lt. Gen. Abud Qanbar, as his military commander for Baghdad — despite objections from senior U.S. officers and concerns that he may have sectarian ties.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, who was visiting Baghdad yesterday, sounded a less-optimistic tone than she has in the past about the situation in Iraq. The likely presidential candidate, who supported the invasion, described the situation as “heartbreaking” and said she doubted that the American people thought the U.S. mission could succeed.

Meanwhile, Iraqi insurgents allied to al Qaeda declared Mr. Bush’s surge plan a victory and boasted that the extra U.S. troops would give them fresh targets.

Damien McElroy in Baghdad contributed to this article.

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