Simon Tisdall

Strategy to give Bush time to recover from poll drubbing

  • Four-point "victory strategy" on the anvil
  • Initial post-invasion ideas may be set aside

    London: U.S. President George Bush has told senior advisers that the U.S. and its allies must make ``a last big push'' to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

    Mr. Bush's refusal to give ground, coming in the teeth of growing calls in the U.S. and Britain for a radical rethink or a swift exit, is having a decisive impact on the policy review being conducted by the Iraq Study Group chaired by Bush family loyalist James Baker, the sources said.

    Though the panel's work is not complete, its recommendations are expected to be built around a four-point ``victory strategy'' developed by Pentagon officials advising the group. The strategy, along with other related proposals, is being circulated in draft form and has been discussed in separate closed sessions with Mr. Baker and Vice-President Dick Cheney, an Iraq war hawk.

    Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall U.S. force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers. This figure is far fewer than that called for by Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. But by raising troop levels, Mr. Bush will draw a line in the sand and defy Democratic pressure for a swift drawdown.

    The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and militant violence and enable redeployments of U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.

    Regional cooperation

    Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of U.S. allies such as oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

    ``The extent to which that [regional cooperation] will include talking to Iran and Syria is still up for debate,'' said Patrick Cronin, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Point three of the plan focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties that collapsed this year. According to the sources, creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state.

    To the certain dismay of U.S. neo-cons, initial post-invasion ideas about imposing fully-fledged western democratic standards will be set aside. And the report is expected to warn that de facto tripartite partition within a loose federal system, as advocated by Democratic senator Joe Biden and others would lead not to peaceful power-sharing but a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

    Lastly, the sources said the study group recommendations would include a call for increased resources to be allocated by Congress to support additional troop deployments and fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces. It will also stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts.

    ``You've got to remember, whatever the Democrats say, it's Bush still calling the shots. He believes it's a matter of political will. That's what [Henry] Kissinger told him. And he's going to stick with it,'' a former senior administration official said. ``He [Bush] is in a state of denial about Iraq. Nobody else is any more. But he is. But he knows he's got less than a year, maybe six months, to make it work. If it fails, I expect the withdrawal process to begin next fall.''

    The ``last push'' strategy is also intended in part to give Mr. Bush and the Republicans ``political time and space'' to recover from this month's mid-term election drubbing and prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the official said.

    Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006