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Bush Searches for Ways to Transfer Security to Iraq

Roger Runningen and Catherine DodgeWed Nov 29, 4:14 AM ET

Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush, under mounting pressure at home to change course in Iraq, will put Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on the spot to propose ways to accelerate the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqis.

After today's summit with NATO leaders, the president travels to Amman, Jordan, for a closed meeting tonight with Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah about the escalating bloodshed in Iraq and the steps Iraq's government can take to staunch it.

Maliki's effort to gain control of his country ``has not produced adequate progress in an acceptable time frame,'' White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said yesterday after Bush gave a speech about Iraq and Afghanistan prior to a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Riga, Latvia. ``He has taken steps. Obviously, they have a long way to go.''

In a Nov. 8 memo obtained by the New York Times and posted on its Web site, Hadley raises concerns about Maliki's ability to control the sectarian violence and offers suggestions to help strengthen Maliki's government.

Baghdad Reality

``His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,'' Hadley said in the memo to senior Bush advisers, which was classified as secret. ``But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.''

Hadley wrote the memo following a trip to Baghdad.

``We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others,'' he wrote.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said that Hadley's main aim in the memo was to support Maliki and improve his capabilities. The U.S. remains committed to helping Maliki govern, Snow said.

``The memo takes a realistic look at the incredibly complex challenges Maliki inherited, and also notes his determination and eagerness to take them on,'' Snow said in an e-mailed response to a question.

Maliki Meetings

The meetings with Maliki, which continue tomorrow, have overshadowed Bush's appearance with the NATO allies, in which he is pushing the 26-nation alliance to expand its membership and take on a bigger role in the battle against terrorism.

At the top of the agenda with Maliki, Bush said, are ``efforts to transfer more responsibility to the Iraqi Security Forces.'' Democratic lawmakers in the U.S., as well as some of Bush's fellow Republicans, argue that the Iraqis will step up to the task only if the U.S. sets limits on how long its 141,000 troops will stay in the country.

``We're going to have to send a message to the Maliki government, to the Iraqi people, as well as the American people that we're not there forever,'' Democratic Representative Ike Skelton (news, bio, voting record) of Missouri, who is in line to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Nov. 26 on NBC's ``Meet the Press'' program.

No Deadlines

Bush reiterated in his speech yesterday that he won't set any deadlines.

``We'll continue to be flexible, and we'll make the changes necessary to succeed,'' he told his audience at the Grand Hall of Latvia University in Riga. ``But there's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.''

The pressure on Bush has increased after his Republican Party lost control of Congress in elections earlier this month that turned largely on public dissatisfaction with the president's strategy. In addition, Iraq is suffering a new escalation in violence that has killed thousands of Iraqis a month as well as contributing to U.S. combat deaths.

The violence has reignited a debate in the U.S. over whether Iraq has descended into civil war. Some analysts, such as Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, say it has.

Civil War

``Iraq is already in a state of at least limited civil war, and may well be escalating to the level of a major civil conflict,'' Cordesman wrote in an analysis published yesterday.

Bush and his advisers reject that characterization. He places the blame on al-Qaeda terrorists who he says are fueling sectarian strife, which increased following the February bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a Shiite shrine.

``There's all kinds of speculation'' about what is going on in Iraq, Bush said in response to a question during his stop in Estonia yesterday. ``There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented, in my opinion, because of these attacks by al- Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal.''

The question of what to call the conflict matters because it affects how the U.S. public views the situation, said Robert Dallek, a retired Boston University professor who has written nine books on presidential and diplomatic history.

`Confession of Failure'

``If you call it a civil war, it's essentially a confession of failure,'' Dallek said. ``It further discredits the administration and undermines the argument for why we are there.''

Hadley said Bush doesn't intend to present Maliki with any comprehensive plan. He will await an internal review being conducted by the State and Defense Departments and the National Security Council, as well as a report by the independent Iraq Study Group established by Congress and headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton, he said.

``He wants to listen to his own commanders,'' Hadley said. ``He wants to, obviously, listen to Prime Minister Maliki.''

To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Riga, L, at rrunningen@bloomberg.net ; Catherine Dodge in Riga, L, at cdodge@bloomberg.net

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