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Bush raising troop levels to pacify Baghdad Admits mistakes, says U.S. commitment is not open-ended

Admitting for the first time that he made mistakes in past decisions on Iraq, President Bush told the nation Wednesday night that he is ordering 21,500 more troops there to pacify bloody Baghdad and prevent Anbar province from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

"The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me," Bush said in a nationally televised speech from the White House. "I have made it clear to the [Iraq] prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended."

A visibly subdued Bush spoke for just over 21 minutes, referring as he often has to the al-Qaida terrorist threat and the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Iraq War is just part of "the decisive ideological struggle of our time" between "those who believe in freedom" and "extremists . . . who have declared their intention to destroy our way of life."

"The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits," the president said. "They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions."

The reinforcements would boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq -- now at 132,000 -- to 153,500. The highest number was 160,000 a year ago in a troop buildup for Iraqi elections.

In addition to extra U.S. forces, the plan envisions Iraq committing 10,000 to 12,000 more troops to secure Baghdad's neighborhoods.

Bush pushed back against the Democrats' calls to end the unpopular war. He said that "to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale."

"If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home," he said.

The action will trigger a battle with Democrats who won control of both houses of Congress in the November elections mainly because of growing opposition to the war.

Leaders of the House and Senate promised they will introduce resolutions opposing the president's policies.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said, "Twenty-thousand troops are far too few to stop a civil war in Iraq."

"It's time to begin the orderly redeployment of our troops so they can start coming home," he added.

Durbin said Democrats will not vote to cut off appropriations for the war. But Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., spoke for many in his party when he hinted that opponents of the president's new proposal might use the congressional power of the purse.

"Congress and the American people will not support the president's plan to risk more lives and commit more dollars to support a failed strategy," said Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush "had an opportunity tonight to demonstrate that he understood the depth of the concern in the country, make a long overdue course correction and articulate a clear mission for our engagement in Iraq.

"Instead, he chose to escalate our involvement in Iraq's civil war by proposing a substantial increase in the number of our forces there."

Pelosi called for the redeployment of American forces out of Iraq in "the next four to six months."

The speech exposed cracks in both parties. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent who won re-election in Connecticut despite his support of the war, said, "I applaud the president for rejecting the fatalism of failure and pursuing a new course to achieve success."

However, two Republican senators, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, announced their opposition to the deployments.

"I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer," Brownback said. "Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution."

For the most part, though, reactions broke along party lines. Democrats seemed much more eager to react than Republicans.

Before the president's speech, polls continued to run strongly against deploying more troops, with 61 percent in a Gallup Poll opposed and 36 percent backing the commander in chief.

In media briefings during the day, White House spokesmen pegged the cost of the initiatives at $6.8 billion. Such estimates have been understated in the past.

So far, the war has cost $357 billion, with 3,017 American military dead and 22,039 wounded. Estimates of Iraqi dead range as high as 660,000.

Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said, "The president's plan . . . puts more American troops in the middle of a civil war and a situation reminiscent of Vietnam."

"Our troops have already sacrificed enough for the president's mistakes," he said.

Bush broke with the past by admitting "mistakes" in Iraq. He said he erred in not sending enough troops to stabilize Baghdad.

The U.S. erred in allowing "too many restrictions" on what our troops were allowed to do, Bush said, but he did not elaborate on what those restrictions were.

In addition to the deployment of American soldiers between Feb. 1 and Feb. 15, Bush announced:

*The Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.

*Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.

*The Iraqi government will spend $10 billion on infrastructure.

*Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year.

*The U.S. will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi army units.

*The U.S. will double the number of provincial reconstruction teams.

The president did not adopt a recommendation by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that the U.S. launch a diplomatic conversation with Iran and Syria.

"Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq," he said.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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A BLUEPRINT FOR CHANGE IN IRAQ

President Bush made these points as he tried to rally support for his Iraq policy:

*21,500 more U.S. troops will be sent to Iraq, adding to the 132,000 there now.

*U.S. forces will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations.

*The Iraqi government must not interfere with the new security efforts.

*He admitted he made mistakes in previous efforts to quell violence in Baghdad.

*His plan includes efforts to spur the Iraqi economy and fix broken services.

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