WASHINGTON - A first wave of additional US troops will go into Iraq before
the end of the month under President Bush's new war plan, a senior defense
official said Tuesday. Congressional Democrats kept up their criticism of plans
to add soldiers in the unpopular conflict.
A US helicopter hovers over Haifa Street in Baghdad January
9, 2007. US fighter jets screamed over the city with unusual intensity and
military helicopters were seeing hovering above Haifa Street, a stronghold
of the Sunni Arab insurgency, witnesses said. [Reuters]
Up to 20,000 troops will be put on alert and be prepared to deploy under the
president's plan, but the increase in forces on the ground will be gradual, said
the official, who requested anonymity because the plans have not yet been
Details were emerging a day before Bush was to address the nation on his
broad initiative to shore up the fragile country after nearly four years of
bloodshed. Bush is expected to link the troop increase to moves by the Iraqi
government to ease the country's murderous sectarian tensions, and to increased
US economic aid.
Moving first into Iraq would be the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division,
which is in Kuwait and poised to move quickly into the country, the defense
Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services
Committee, said he expects Bush to announce that up to 20,000 additional troops
will be sent to Iraq but not to say how long the extra forces will be there.
Levin, who spoke to reporters a day after meeting with White House national
security adviser Stephen Hadley, said he believes Bush will signal that the
overall US commitment in Iraq is not open-ended.
Bush is expected to link the troop increase to promised moves by the Iraqi
government such as curbing Shiite militias that have terrorized the Sunni
minority, enacting a plan to distribute oil revenue to the country's sects and
easing government restrictions on members of former Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein's Baath Party.
The added US troops are also expected to be linked to a requirement that the
Baghdad government commit more money toward reconstruction and send more of its
own troops into the fight, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Tuesday. Cornyn, a
Bush loyalist who recently met with the president to discuss Iraq, said he
believes these conditions were suggested by the Iraqi government.
There are currently about 132,000 US troops in Iraq. Much of the increase
would come from speeding up the timetable for sending some forces already
scheduled to go to the country, and keeping others there who were about to
leave, the defense official said.
The extra forces would be sent to Baghdad, which has been consumed by
sectarian violence, and the western Anbar Province, a base of the mostly Sunni
insurgency and foreign al-Qaida fighters, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas,
and others said following a White House session with Bush.
A day before Bush's nationally televised speech, Sen. Edward Kennedy, a
longtime critic, proposed legislation that would deny the president the billions
needed to send more troops unless Congress agreed first. Though it was unclear
whether the bill would ever reach the full Senate, it could serve as a rallying
point for the most insistent foes of the Iraq conflict.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the president was still listening
to ideas from lawmakers.
"What I'm saying is the president still continues to have an open mind
because this is a way forward. This is not, 'Wave a wand and it's going to
happen,'" Snow said.
He conceded that Bush has a challenge in persuading a war-weary public.
"The president will not shape policy according to public opinion, but he does
understand that it's important to bring the public back to this war, and restore
public confidence and support for the mission," Snow said.
In the House, Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., introduced a resolution urging the
president not to send additional troops. The resolution also asks that the
president seek Congress's permission if he wants to raise levels beyond 132,000.
Senate Democrats were planning to bring to the floor next week a nonbinding
measure that would urge the president not to send more troops. The resolution,
which Democrats said they hoped would win support from some Republicans, would
not force the president's hand on Iraq or try to cut money for troops, they
Sen. Harry Reid said he did not believe Democrats would need to do more to
twist the president's arm.
"I really believe that if we can come up with a bipartisan approach to this
escalation it will do more to change the direction in Iraq than anything else we
can do," Reid, D-Nev., told reporters.