Bush thought to be planning Iraqi job-creation scheme

UNDER SCRUTINY: The US president is expected to announce his revised plan for Iraq tomorrow, but he will almost certainly encounter staunch opposition from Congress


Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 1

US President George W. Bush will this week announce a renewed reconstruction package for Iraq costing up to US$1 billion and a fresh push by a reinforced Iraqi army to quell the insurgency in Baghdad to sweeten the pill of his decision to dispatch up to 20,000 more US soldiers to the fray.

Bush's determination to reject the advice of the Baker-Hamilton review, which recommended a gradual withdrawal, continues to cause deep unease both in military and congressional circles.

In a speech tomorrow, Bush will give details of a deal thrashed out last week between him and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in which the US troop increase of up to five combat brigades, on top of the 130,000 personnel already on the ground, would be matched by a rise in Iraqi army numbers.

Three more Iraqi brigades are to be sent to Baghdad over the next weeks. Two of those brigades will be made up of peshmerga fighters from the Kurdish north of the country, which is likely to prompt questions about their effectiveness. Kurdish leaders have shown a desire to remain outside the sectarian violence escalating between Sunni and Shiite communities to the south.

The other sweetener will be a doubling of reconstruction efforts. Up to US$1 billion is to be spent on a program in which Iraqis are employed to clean the streets and repair and paint schools.

The Pentagon-run scheme would try to draw young men away from insurgent groups and back into the mainstream economy. It would be administered by officials embedded in US combat brigades in a bid to persuade Iraqis that the Americans were there as a force for good and not just of occupation.

Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, who took up the post of commander of US combat forces in Iraq a month ago, said the new military operation could see Iraqi government forces in control of the capital within a year, and the overall mission accomplished within two or three years.

But other experts expressed reservations about continuing on a course that had been tried and had failed.

"I don't know that the Iraqi government has ever demonstrated ability to lead the country, and we shouldn't be surprised," said Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who led the US mission in Baghdad after the invasion.

The Bush strategy is certain to bring the president into collision with the new Democratic majority in both houses of Congress which is committed to reducing the US presence in Iraq. Nancy Pelosi, who was anointed speaker of the House of Representatives last week, said on Sunday the Democrats would subject to scrutiny any request by the president for funds to support troop reinforcements.

"If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request, we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now," she said in a television interview.