President Bush Plans to Shift More Troops to Baghdad
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KWAME HOLMAN: The news out of the Iraqi capital in recent weeks has been grim. Daily attacks on Iraqi security forces, government officials, and civilians.
More than 30 people were killed in this attack on Sunday. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance of a bustling marketplace in the Shiite Sadr City part of Baghdad; 17 more were wounded.
Iraq’s new government tightened security in the capital just six weeks ago. Thousands of extra Iraqi security forces were brought in, additional checkpoints set up, driving restrictions and curfews imposed. But that has done little to stop the spiraling violence, in a city that is home to 7.5 million, nearly a third of Iraq’s people.
Protecting civilian lives dominated the meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today. They said more U.S. troops would be moved from other parts of Iraq to bolster security in Baghdad.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Coalition and Iraqi forces will secure individual neighborhoods, will ensure the existence of an Iraqi security presence in the neighborhoods, and gradually expand the security presence, as Iraqi citizens help them root out those who instigate violence.
This plan will involve embedding more U.S. military police with Iraqi police units to make them more effective. Our military commanders tell me that this deployment will better reflect the current conditions on the ground in Iraq.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through translator): We are determined to defeat terrorism, and the security plan for Baghdad has entered the second phase, and it’s achieving it’s objectives in hunting the terrorist networks and eliminating it.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the spike in violence has not been limited to the capital. A recent U.N. report says nearly 6,000 civilians were killed across Iraq in May and June, an average of 100 lives a day. About the same number were wounded during that two-month period.
Security in Baghdad
GWEN IFILL: Now, an assessment of the Iraqi prime minister's meeting with President Bush and one of the key items on their agenda: the security situation in Baghdad.
For that, we turn to two natives of the Iraqi capital. Laith Kubba served as spokesman for Iraq's previous government from April 2005 until January of this year.
Thabit Abdullah is an associate professor of history at York University in Toronto. He's written several books about Iraq.
Laith Kubba, President Bush today characterized the situation on the ground in Baghdad as "terrible." There have been 6,000 deaths in May and June, and apparently the death toll is up -- or the number of attacks is up 40 percent since this time earlier this summer. Why is that?
LAITH KUBBA, Former Iraqi Government Spokesman: Well, for over three years, I think al-Qaida and the former Saddamists, the insurgency, attempted to stop the developments in Iraqi political developments. Slowly, painfully, I think Iraq was making progress.
Up until three, four months ago, I think they've unleashed a new strategy. That's their salvation, but to the ruins of Iraq, they've stirred up sectarian violence. Now with sectarian violence, there are recruits, not only who are backing up these gangs of militias, but more importantly the insurgency now is getting fresh recruits out of this conflict.
They've managed to terrify the Sunnis in a way by having the backlash, more or less randomly now hitting out Sunni neighborhoods. The insurgency is getting fresh recruits. And ultimately, they have the brains, they have the tools, so violence has increased in Iraq with the new dimension: sectarian violence.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Abdullah, do the people you're talking to tell you the same thing?
THABIT ABDULLAH, Associate Professor, York University: Yes, the situation has worsened, but I would add to what Laith Kubba has said, that to some extent this could be expected. The post-Saddam period was never going to be a rosy transition to democracy.
Forty years of fascist rule, wars, sanctions, and the development of several generations with deep scars and a culture of violence that is so ingrained right now will be very difficult to root out.
Moving U.S. troops to Baghdad
GWEN IFILL: Do you have any sense, Professor, how many troops it will take -- the White House wasn't saying how many they're talking about moving around, only that they're probably not bringing in new recruits from outside of Iraq, that they're moving people around inside?
THABIT ABDULLAH: Yes, I don't really have information about how much troops it will take to secure the capital. I would say, however, that Baghdad is a very large city, very complex. And it seems to me that the inclusion of Americans is, to some extent, an admission that the first phase, as the prime minister has called it, of the security plan has basically failed.
What I hear, that Iraqis are joking about the security plan, saying that it only boils down to curfews. That's the only part of the plan that they see, which has actually decimated the already-weakened economy, because people can't get to work. So it's caused even more embitterment and more grumbling.
The other part of this, I think, that is, you know, quite troubling, when I look at this, is that the inclusion of Americans on a wide scale in Baghdad might actually add to the anger against the process that is going on in Iraq today, against the current government, because of the current American position vis-a-vis the Lebanese-Israeli conflict.
Once again, what we saw, for example, yesterday, demonstrations all over Iraq in support of Lebanon, condemning American imperialism and Israeli aggression, sort of putting the two together as strategic allies. This will further undermine the credibility of the United States that's already very low in Iraq. And the second phase might end up like the first one.
GWEN IFILL: Laith Kubba, let's talk about that second phase, because we heard Prime Minister Maliki talk about that today at the White House. You'll remember when the president went to Iraq on that surprise visit and in order to basically congratulate the prime minister on his elevation. Have things improved since he's been prime minister? Was that the turning point the White House had hoped for?
LAITH KUBBA: Well, there has been improvements at the political level. I mean, his government is broad. It's representative. He initiated a reconciliation plan, although it was rejected by some, but it was a bold move.
They are making more arrests. But the reality, the rate of progress or success is much lower, smaller than the rate of deterioration that is taking place, the rate of killings, and violence, and death.
And so if things continue as is, this is a losing race or a losing battle. I think something fundamentally needs to change here in order to readdress the balance. I think we need to look more at a much bolder and far-reaching political initiative.
I think force can only be effective if it's complemented with intelligence, with politics. I think certainly we need to look at much stronger measures to boost up and strengthen the central government.
Currently, the government is a hostage to parliament, which is divided by so many factions it just cannot work. Iraq needs a strong central government.
GWEN IFILL: So I just want to follow up on that. So you say that the unity government that has been touted so widely is not quite working yet?
LAITH KUBBA: Well, I think the unity government, it's based on dividing power rather than integrating the power of the state, because the rules of the game, the way the executive is very much subdued to parliament, makes it simply an image of the different groups and factions that are in parliament.
Iraq desperately needs a strong executive, and the current political system does not give or yield to strong executive.
Balancing security in Iraq
GWEN IFILL: Professor Abdullah, the president said today that there has been success in other areas of Iraq, another key province of Iraq, that he said is obscured by some of the violence in Baghdad. Is that the balance you see, or is the progress not as the president presents it?
THABIT ABDULLAH: No, I concur with what my colleague has said, and I echo the suggestions that he's made.
What I would add, though, to what he has said is that there needs to be a broader view to this. The United States-Iranian conflict has had a disastrous effect on the security of Iraq. And, again, the image of the United States as an imperialist power has not been lessened by its current positions; this will also need to be changed, if we are talking about bold initiatives and bold moves.
Iraq can only do so much on its own, in terms of its own internal reform. I agree with Laith Kubba that that is fundamental, but a broader view needs to be taken.
Iraqi mood on crisis in Lebanon
GWEN IFILL: You mentioned a moment ago about the lack of popularity, to put it mildly, in Iraq right now about what's happening with Lebanon and Israel. And we also heard the prime minister ask about that at the White House today. Is Prime Minister Maliki generally considered to be sympathetic to Hezbollah?
THABIT ABDULLAH: Well, you know, one indication, I think, is that, again yesterday the government announced that it was going to give humanitarian aid to Lebanon to the score of $35 million in a country like Iraq, which is desperately in need of all the funds.
This is the indication of the incredible pressure that there is by the Iraqi public, by the people in the street, so to speak, of the need to somehow inject Iraq into this conflict squarely on the side of Lebanon. I don't think that the mood is a support for Hezbollah per se, but it is perceived, the attacks that are going on in Lebanon now, are perceived to be an Israeli attack against Lebanon as a whole and more broadly against the Arabs and Muslims as a whole.
GWEN IFILL: Laith Kubba, I want to ask you about that. Do you see a connection between the concern about the violence in Baghdad and the efforts that were announced today and the eye that's also being kept on what's happening in Lebanon, as well? Is there a connection?
LAITH KUBBA: Well, I would agree Iraq cannot be separated from regional politics, but by and large, while the government, the Iraqi government in the Green Zone knows it depends heavily for its continuity and security on U.S. troops.
People outside, by and large, have a resentment towards U.S. policies in the region, mixed feelings about Iraq. I think a lot of people initially were grateful and appreciative of liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not to the end where Iraq is today.
But by and large I think perceptions here in the U.S. and perceptions in Iraq are very, very different. And Iraq is very much part of main street Middle East, despite its problems, so that element of resentment is there.
GWEN IFILL: And that would, perhaps, make this task more difficult, to get things straight again, or get Iraq right, which is the way the president's national security adviser put it today?
LAITH KUBBA: Well, I think it makes the position of the U.S. difficult, because it's in Iraq's vital interest that it continues to receive the support and help from the U.S. on one hand. It's also in the U.S.'s, I think, national interest to make sure that Iraq does not fall apart.
But at the same time, putting U.S. troops in the midst of Iraq's internal violence, as well as controversial U.S. policies in the region, just makes it more difficult. I mean, it's extremely challenging, and I'm sure a lot of people are appreciative of the support the U.S. is giving to Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: Laith Kubba and Thabit Abdullah, thank you both very much.