Bush made no mention of his plan for changing Iraq strategy, which he has
said will be unveiled next month.
Amid growing speculation that Bush will choose to send tens of thousands more
US troops to Baghdad in a reinvigorated attempt to quell the sectarian violence,
a leading Democrat in Congress cautioned against that move.
"Everything I've heard and everything I know to be true lead me to believe
that this increase at best won't change a thing, and at worst could exacerbate
the situation even further," said Rep. Ike Skeltonthe Missouri Democrat who will
become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in January.
Gen. James Conway, the new commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters in
Missouri on Saturday that one option Bush is considering is to add five or more
combat brigades - roughly 20,000 troops. He said he believes the Joint
Chiefs as a whole would support adding that number in Iraq "if there is a solid
military reason for doing so." He stressed that adding troops just to be
"thickening the mix" in Baghdad would be a mistake.
US commanders moved several thousand more US troops into Baghdad last summer
in a bid to tamp down the violence. The move worked briefly, but the violence
rebounded quickly, according to the Pentagon report sent to Congress on Monday.
The report said attacks on US and Iraqi troops and Iraqi civilians jumped
sharply in recent months to the highest level since Iraq regained its
sovereignty in June 2004. From mid-August to mid-November, the weekly average
number of attacks increased 22 percent from the previous three months. The worst
violence was in Baghdad and in the western province of Anbar, long the focus of
activity by Sunni insurgents, the report said.
A bar chart in the Pentagon's report to Congress gave no exact numbers but
indicated the weekly average had approached 1,000 in the latest period, compared
with about 800 per week from the May-to-August period. Statistics provided
separately by the Pentagon said weekly attacks had averaged 959 in the latest
The report also said the Iraqi government's failure to end sectarian violence
has eroded ordinary Iraqis' confidence in their future. That conclusion reflects
some of the Bush administration's doubt about the ability of Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki to make the hard decisions US officials insist are needed to
quell the violence.
"The failure of the government to implement concrete actions in these areas
has contributed to a situation in which, as of October 2006, there were more
Iraqis who expressed a lack of confidence in their government's ability to
improve the situation than there were in July 2006," the report said, calling
for urgent action in Baghdad.
It made no mention of a timetable for ending US military involvement.
It said that as security conditions permit and the Iraqi army and police
become more capable, U.S. forces will move out of the cities, reduce the number
of bases from which they operate and conduct fewer visible patrols. That has
been the basic strategy for some time, but it has not been fully implemented
because of the explosion in sectarian killings this year and disappointments in
the pace of developing Iraqi security forces.
The development of an Iraqi army and police is making progress, the report
said, but much remains to be done.
It said, for example, that the goal of training and equipping an Iraqi army
of about 137,000 soldiers is 98 percent completed, although it also noted that
far fewer troops are actually available for duty on any given day due to
absenteeism, casualties, desertions and leaves of absence.
Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the plans and strategy chief for the Joint Chiefs,
told reporters Monday that of the approximately 322,000 Iraqi troops and police
now trained and equipped, only about 280,000 are available for