Thu, May 24, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Bush's plan for Iraq sees distribution of roles

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The administration of US President George W. Bush is developing plans to "internationalize" the Iraq crisis, including an expanded role for the UN, as a way of reducing overall US responsibility for Iraq's future and limiting domestic political fallout from the war as next year's election season approaches.

The move came amid rising concerns in Washington that Bush's controversial Baghdad security surge, led by US commander General David Petraeus, is not working and that Iran is winning the clandestine battle for control of Iraq.

"Petraeus is brilliant. But he is the captain of a sinking ship," said a former senior administration official who questioned whether Iraq's divided political leadership could prevent a descent into chaos. "Iraq's government is a mobile phone number that doesn't answer. Iraq probably can't be fixed."

Although sectarian killings have fallen in Baghdad since the surge began in February, the level of violence across the country remains broadly unchanged.

But the White House is fiercely resisting calls from Democrats and some Republicans to scrap the operation and set a timetable for a troop withdrawal.

The former official, who is familiar with administration thinking, said Bush would instead ask Congress to agree to a six-month extension of the surge after Petraeus presented his "progress report" in early September.

While insisting that no decision had yet been taken on an extension, the Pentagon announced last week that 35,000 soldiers from 10 army brigades had been told they could expect to be deployed to Iraq by the end of the year. That would enable the US to maintain heightened troop levels of about 160,000 soldiers through next spring.

An analysis published by Hearst Newspapers on Monday said that the number of combat troops could almost double to 98,000 by the end of the year if arriving and departing combat brigades overlap.

By the same calculation, the overall total including support troops could top 200,000 -- an increase the report said amounted to a "second surge."

Bush would try to sweeten the pill by pursuing a series of steps intended to "hand off" many US responsibilities to the international community, the former official said.

The president would try simultaneously to placate congressional and public opinion by indicating willingness to talk about a future troop "drawdown."

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