The first of up to 20,000 additional US troops will move into Iraq by month's end under President George W. Bush's new war plan, a senior defense official said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged to hold a vote on the increase, which many Democrats oppose. Details of a gradual military buildup emerged a day before Bush's planned speech to the nation, in which he also will propose a bit over $1 billion (â‚¬770 million) to shore up the country's battered economy and create jobs, said a second US official.
Koch's Comments: We must have allies in Iraq
Bush is expected to urge friendly Mideast countries to increase their aid to Iraq but will ignore the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that he include Syria and Iran in an effort to stanch Iraqi bloodshed nearly four years after the U.S. invasion, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been announced.
Bush is expected to link the troop increase to promised steps by the Iraqi government to build up its own military, ease the country's murderous sectarian tensions, increase reconstruction and enact a plan to distribute oil revenues among the country's religious sects.
Even before he delivers his speech, Bush's plan has drawn sharp criticism from the leaders of the new, Democratic-controlled Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hoped for a bipartisan measure that would declare, "We don't support this escalation of the war." If it passes, "the president's going to have to take note of that. I think that's the beginning of the end, as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for Pelosi, said Tuesday night, "The House will vote on the president's proposal." She said she had no details.
The president met during the day with lawmakers, practiced his speech and briefed key foreign allies, including calls to the leaders of Britain, Australia and Denmark. Bush was expected to practice his speech a couple of more times before addressing the nation at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday (0200 GMT Thursday) from the White House Library.
Under Bush's plan, thousands of troops will be alerted that they may be needed in Iraq - including units already there whose service would be extended, or others that could be sent earlier than initially scheduled, said one official.
Moving first into Iraq would be the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, which is now in Kuwait and poised to head quickly into the country, the defense official said. The brigade, numbering about 3,500 troops, is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Other units, including Marine brigades in western Iraq, could be asked to extend their deployment. And the military buildup is also likely to include moving the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis into the Persian Gulf region, as a show of force and a warning to Iran and Syria.
There are already about 132,000 US troops in Iraq.
According to the defense official, Bush also will discuss the need to address how often the Pentagon can tap the National Guard and Reserves, although he may provide few details. And Bush will again endorse the need to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.
The speech looms as a key one for Bush, who is beginning the final two years of his presidency waging a war that has scant public support and whose own popularity has plummeted as well.
The public has heard several previous campaigns by Bush to defend his Iraq policies and show that he is changing with changing circumstances. Since the war's start in March 2003, there have been at least seven public relations offensives by Bush on the war, with some of these speech series timed to milestone events and others to dips in polls.
In Iraq Tuesday, US jets screamed low over the capital and helicopter gunships swooped in to pound a central Baghdad battleground as Iraqi and American troops waged a daylong fight that officials said killed 50 insurgents in a militant Sunni Arab stronghold.
Iraqi police, meanwhile, reported finding 52 bodies dumped in three cities, 41 of them in Baghdad, all apparent victims of sectarian reprisal killings.
Bush has met with more than 110 lawmakers in recent days to discuss his plan, and some offered details Tuesday.
"The president believes that the Iraqi forces aided by American forces will be able to clean out Baghdad and stabilize Baghdad and leave as he put it 'space' for a political reconciliation process to unify the country and stabilize Iraq," said Rep. Robert Andrews, one of 12 Democratic lawmakers who met with Bush Tuesday.
Andrews said the meeting was "dominated by our skepticism of whether the Iraqi forces are willing to fight for their own government."
Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he expected Bush to announce that up to 20,000 additional troops will be sent to Iraq but not to say how long the extra forces will be there. He said he believed Bush will signal that the overall US commitment in Iraq is not open-ended.
A key element of the plan will be the increased responsibilities taken on by the Iraqis. Bush is expected to link the troop increase to efforts by the Iraqi government to curb Shi'ite militias that have terrorized the Sunni minority, as well as moves to ease government restrictions on members of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn said Tuesday that he believes the Baghdad government suggested some of the conditions, such as their ongoing efforts to get more Iraqi forces trained and equipped for battle and committing more money for reconstruction.
Leading the opposition, Sen. Edward Kennedy, a longtime critic, introduced legislation that would deny the president the billions needed to send more troops unless Congress agreed first. It was unclear whether the bill would ever reach the full Senate, but it could serve as a rallying point for critics.
White House press secretary Tony Snow conceded that Bush has a challenge in convincing a war-weary public.
"The president will not shape policy according to public opinion, but he does understand that it's important to bring the public back to this war and restore public confidence and support for the mission," Snow said.