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(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush's new strategy to send thousands more troops to Iraq was met Thursday with strong skepticism across the Mideast, where many predicted that even with more soldiers, America would fail to break the cycle of violence.
Many saw the surge in troops as a desperate move that will only increase the United States' failures in Iraq - and could deepen the sectarian divides in the war-fractured country, leading to more bloodshed.
There were deep doubts that US troops, or the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government, would tackle what many in the Sunni-dominated Arab world see as the chief threat to Iraq: Shi'ite militias, blamed for fueling the cycle of sectarian slayings.
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 most feared of them, the Mahdi Army, loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Otherwise, the US will lose any support among Iraq's Sunnis.
"They need to use the same force against the Mahdi Army as they do against al-Qaida. They need to establish new credibility and they must be evenhanded," al-Ani said.
"We want to see from day one that the Americans search Sadr City (the Mahdi Army stronghold in Baghdad) as strongly as they deal with Fallujah and Ramadi," two Sunni insurgent regions, he said. "Otherwise i don't see any chances for success."
Al-Maliki has resisted US pressure in the past to move against al-Sadr's militia, but on Wednesday Iraqi officials said the prime minister agreed to crack down on the Mahdi Army, warning his ally that "there will be no escape from attack."
But many in the Arab world profoundly distrust al-Maliki's government, believing it is serving Iran's interests and aims only to establish Shi'ite domination of Iraq, without making concessions to the Sunni minority that ruled the country under Saddam Hussein.
Bush's plan depends heavily on al-Maliki to use Iraqi troops to crack down on militants from both sides nd meet a series of benchmarks to promote reconciliation between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
Bush "didn't answer the main question: What if al-Maliki failed in meeting the new plan? 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.
Bush said on Wednesday night that he planned to send 21,500 more US forces to Iraq to try to stabilize the country and "hasten the day our troops begin coming home." He also acknowledged making mistakes in earlier security efforts in Baghdad.
Bush's blueprint would boost the number of US troops in Iraq - now at 132,000 - to 153,500. The latest increase calls for sending 17,500 US combat troops to Baghdad, and 4,000 more Marines to Anbar Province, a base of the Sunni insurgency and foreign al-Qaida fighters.
To some Arabs, the surge was a sign the United States was pushing ahead with a military solution to the Iraq war that has failed in the past.
Bush "is drowning and trying to get out of the Iraqi trap, but he's submerging deeper," Salem al-Falahat, head of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood Movement, said, warning that the US plans "aims to plunge the region into more destruction and bloodshed and leave Iraq with sectarian hatred for many decades to come."
Several analysts expressed doubts that more troops would prove any more efficient at fighting an elusive insurgency.
"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 the Arab Open University in Kuwait. "More US troops would only mean more soldiers to be hunted by insurgents in the absence of a defined plan by Americans and Iraqis."
The US president's plan for the Iraq war also called for clamping down on what Washington sees as Iran and Syria's support for insurgents. Bush said Iran and Syria "are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq."
"We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," Bush said. "We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria."
Bush said he had ordered an additional aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf region and the deployment of Patriot air defense system to "friends and allies" in the area - in what was seen as a tough signal to Iran.
In Teheran, Iran's foreign ministry on Thursday denounced Bush's plan as a "continuation of occupation."
Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini denied Iran was meddling in Iraq, saying Bush made the accusations "to cover up its wrong policies" in Iraq.
"The installment of Patriot missiles is part of the US policy direction to create a support umbrella for the Zionist regime (Israel) through an Islamic country," he said, according to the state news agency. He said the increase in US troops will "extend insecurity, danger and tension in the country. This will not help to solve Iraq's problems."
Bush also said the United States would try to get more help from American allies in the region.
"Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists - and a strategic threat to their survival," he said.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also will travel to the region beginning on Friday to promote the Bush administration's plan.