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US Sends More Troops Into Baghdad.

More US and Iraqi troops are to be deployed in Baghdad in an effort to shore up the weakened prime minister. The FT on Nov. 30 quoted a senior US official as denying that Maliki had snubbed President Bush following a leak to The New York Times of a memo written by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley who expressed strong doubts about the prime minister's intentions and ability to control sectarian violence.

One of Hadley's main recommendations in his Nov. 8 memo was that Maliki should shake up his cabinet by appointing technocrats and end his "political strategy" with Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi'ite mullah whose Jaysh al-Mahdi militia are accused of violence against Sunni Arabs.

Shi'ite MPs and cabinet ministers led by Sadr suspended their participation in government institutions in protest at the Nov. 30 Bush-Maliki meeting in Amman. The boycott by the five Sadrist ministers and 30 MPs may not cause lasting damage but it piles the pressure on Maliki. Maleki is looking for a faster handover of security to Iraqis and discussion on an agreement to regulate the presence of the 160,000-strong multinational forces (MNF).

President Bush on Nov. 30 put on a strong show of support for Maliki, calling him the "right guy for Iraq". He assured Maliki the administration would not respond to pressure for a "graceful exit". But Maliki returned to Baghdad with little to show from their summit other than rhetorical commitments and an understanding that the US would speed up the training of Iraqi security forces and the full transfer of their authority to him. In public at least, the US side did not specify when Maliki would no longer have to share control over his own forces with Gen. George Casey, the US commander. But Maliki told ABC television Iraqi forces would be fully ready by June. (The White House had cautioned against expecting any "bombshells" from the summit, which was hastily arranged in response to a surge in sectarian violence in Baghdad).

US policy remains effectively on hold until various internal reviews are completed and the ISG delivers its own recommendations. Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One Bush would probably arrive at a decision on "the new direction in Iraq" within weeks. Describing the mood on the Iraqi side, Hadley said: "There is a real sense of urgency, but there is not a sense of panic".

At a joint news conference in Amman, Bush twice rejected calls for a "graceful exit". He said the US would be in Iraq "until the job is complete". He added: "I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there".

Media reports say the ISG will recommend a gradual redeployment of US forces starting next year but with no timetable. Substantial numbers of US advisers, trainers and back-up forces would remain. Outreach to Iran and Syria may be proposed, but Bush has ruled out direct US engagement under current circumstances.

Bush's praise for Maliki followed a diplomatic brouhaha on Nov. 29 when their scheduled trilateral summit with King Abdullah was abruptly cancelled. Hadley said Maliki had nonetheless greeted him warmly, adding: "He's a really class act", describing his "vision and determination". (In his Nov. 8 memo Hadley said Maliki was either "ignorant" of what was going on in Iraq, being deceptive or incapable of turning his good intentions into action. The two sides discussed the role in the violence played by Sadr. Maliki rebuked Sadr, saying he and others in the coalition had to protect the government and the constitution and not to break the law.

In Washington, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said all ideas were under review. But Gen. Casey had decided to send two battalions, about 1,200 troops, to Baghdad. Gen Pace expressed his support for sending more Iraqi forces to Baghdad, saying the Iraqi and US political leaderships were discussing where they should be drawn from and what "cultural flavour" - Shi'ite or Sunni - the units should have in their deployment. US officials played down suggestions of US displeasure with Maliki, as the consequences of the leaked memo reverberated around their capitals. Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, one of Maliki's main Shi'ite rivals and a coalition partner, has been invited by the White House to Washington next week.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Date:Dec 4, 2006
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