Saturday, October 21, 2006

The week the war unravelled: Bush to 'refocus' Iraq strategy

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
The Independent

"In a new admission of the mounting crisis in Iraq, President George Bush is to have emergency consultations with his top generals today to see if any change of strategy is needed to cope with the escalating violence in a country seemingly spinning out of control.

Two days after he acknowledged possible similarities between today's Iraq and the Vietnam of a generation ago, Mr Bush said he would be discussing the worsening situation with General John Abizaid, overall US commander for the Middle East, and General George Casey, in command of the 145,000 American troops in Iraq.

Mr Bush's words cap an especially disastrous week in the three- and-a-half year war, when the entire Allied strategy has, at times, appeared to be unravelling, amid relentless bloodshed in Iraq and growing political criticism at home, including from top members of his own Republican Party.

It began amid consternation in London and Washington over the remarks of General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, that the presence of foreign troops might be "exacerbating" the situation in Iraq ­ words taken as a call from Britain's top-ranking soldier for a swift pull-out of coalition forces. Caught off balance, Tony Blair first insisted that there would be no withdrawal "until the job was done," claiming that was the view of General Dannatt as well. On Wednesday, only 24 hours later, the Prime Minister was stressing the desire of Britain and the US to leave Iraq as soon as possible ­ citing the opinion of General Casey that Iraqi security forces might be ready to take over in 12 to 18 months.

The same debate raged in Washington. Almost every day brings news of sectarian massacres and military casualties as US troops try in vain to halt the sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shia and cope with the anti-American insurgency. Seventy-four US soldiers have been killed so far in October, putting the month on course to be the bloodiest since January 2005. The death toll among allied forces this week overtook the number lost in the September 11 attacks.

At the same time, Washington is visibly losing patience with Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's Prime Minister, who has been deemed ineffectual and unwilling to take on the Shia militias who now control large areas of the south."

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