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Battle for Baghdad

DW staff / AFP (jp)January 11, 2007

US President George Bush has unveiled a new Iraq strategy, admitting responsibility for mistakes and announcing he would be sending in over 20,000 extra troops. Europeans responded with skepticism about his priorities.

President Bush admitted Iraq "wasn't working"Image: AP

The new strategy announced late Wednesday provides for an increase in the number of troops fighting in Iraq, from the current level of 132,000, in a push to quell sectarian violence.

Berlin's coordinator for German-US relations, Karsten Voigt, said he hoped Bush's "new way forward" would prove effective but doubted he would achieve his goal of securing a stable democracy in Iraq.

"We've seen that the president tends to be over-optimistic," he said.

Conspicuously absent from the new approach was any call for greater diplomacy with neighbors such as Syria -- an omission that drew criticism from foreign policy experts in Germany who would have preferred to see the US actively include Iraq's neighbors in attempts to stabilize the region.

"I would have welcomed an invitation to Syria to involve itself constructively," said conservative politician Eckart von Klaeden of Chancellor Merkel's CDU on German radio.

Military aggression not the answer

Elmar Brok, head of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said he doubted that extra troops could contain the country's spiraling sectarian violence. He also regretted the lack of focus on training local forces and that the new budget earmarked too little for economic development.

"A key priority should be training Iraqi soldiers and police and doing more for economic restructuring," he said.

"The situation cannot be resolved by more military intervention," agreed the Social Democrats' foreign policy expert, Gert Weisskirchen. "His strategy emphasizes an approach that can no longer help."

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy also stressed that only a "political strategy" could restore stability to Iraq.

"The situation in Iraq is getting heavily worse, day after day," Douste-Blazy, whose country was one of the bitterest opponents of the US-led invasion in 2003, told a press conference. "It is through a global approach, a political strategy, that it will be possible to restore stability to Iraq, and beyond Iraq to the wider region," he said.

"Beyond the proposals made by President George Bush, we believe the only way for Iraq to retrieve its stability, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and its national unity is through the participation of all civilian, political and religious components of Iraqi society."

European reactions

Anschlag auf Schiitenmoschee in Bagdad Abtransport eines Opfers
Can more troops help stem the violence?Image: AP

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also criticized the new strategy for failing to tackle political issues in the violence-wracked country.

"(The speech) was significantly lighter on the major political challenges (in Iraq). They were mentioned only in passing or hardly at all," Bildt told Swedish national radio SR.

Bildt stressed the importance of the distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, the inclusion of different groups of the population in the political process and the engagement of Iraq's neighbors to stabilize the country.

"This is a more limited initiative than what I think was required," Bildt said.

Bildt was guarded on the US president's plan to send additional troops into Iraq.

"That's a tactical military decision that foreign ministers in distant countries have a very limited chance of judging," Bildt told Swedish news agency TT.

"Bush is throwing oil on the fire" by sending 21,500 "new Rambos" to Iraq, wrote the socialist Ethnos newspaper in Greece.

"The march of folly"

Meanwhile, Britain's The Independent declared "the march of folly is to continue..." on its frontpage. "So into the graveyard of Iraq, George Bush, the commander-in-chief, is to send another 21,000 of his soldiers," it wrote.

More than 3,000 US soldiers have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

The strategy however won approval from The Times of London as a valid, last-ditch attempt to put Iraq on the path towards stability.

"The new Iraq strategy involves serious risks but is better than the alternative," The Times wrote.

While acknowledging that more Americans will die in Iraq as a result, The Times added: "It is right, nevertheless, to make one more effort to create the sort of Iraq that its people deserve and the vast majority of its citizens aspire to."

The left-leaning Liberation daily in France asserted that "the dispatch of 20,000 additional soldiers to Iraq will not correct the insurgency and fighting."

"Since victory is not within reach, the aim has been reduced to the maximum," wrote the right-wing Figaro, adding that Washington has now set its sights on securing control of the capital Baghdad.

Italy's Corriere della Sera noted that key regional players Iran and Syria were not invited to take part in the solution.