President George W. Bush will lay out his new policy for Iraq in a prime-time speech Wednesday that is expected to call for a temporary troop increase but also establish a series of goals that the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to ease sectarian tensions and stabilize the country politically and economically.
A senior administration official said the president is expected to call for a temporary increase of up to 20,000 troops, for spending of up to $1 billion to help create jobs and boost the Iraqi economy, and possibly for new Middle East diplomacy. It was unclear whether Bush would say anything about how long the new troops, and the more than 132,000 troops already there, might stay.
The president, who has spent weeks reviewing the recommendations of experts in and out of his administration on how best to quell the violence in Iraq, will deliver the televised speech at 9 p.m. Wednesday, the White House announced. He is expected then to repeat his remarks in speeches across the country in an effort to build support among a deeply skeptical public and a Democratic-controlled Congress, empowered by that public, that has vowed to demand accountability on the war.
Democrats have referred to a troop increase as a risky and costly "escalation"; they say the strategy has been tried unsuccessfully before and that it goes in exactly the wrong direction. And they have vowed to scrutinize intensely any new spending or troop-deployment plan.
The president continued Monday to meet with lawmakers to try to sell the plan.
Among the "benchmarks" Bush plans to lay out, the administration officials said, are steps to draw more Sunnis into the political process, complete a long-delayed measure on the distribution of oil revenue and ease the government's policy toward former Baath Party members.
In apparent anticipation of the new approach, Bush has realigned his national security team, including replacing generals who had expressed misgivings about the risks of a larger U.S. presence in Iraq.
The new American operational commander in Iraq said Sunday that his plan, expected to be part of the policy change, was to send additional American troops into Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods. He said that under the new strategy it may take another "two or three years" to gain the upper hand in the war. (Page 5)
American officials insisted that they intended to hold the Iraqis to a realistic timetable for action, without saying precisely how. Such efforts in the past have fallen considerably short.
The skepticism about the administration's strategy among Democrats and some Republicans has been underscored by tough comments from the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, who said any new troop increase would face the "harshest scrutiny."
Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts planned in a speech Tuesday to outline specific steps Congress could take to prevent a troop increase. He will also introduce legislation to require the administration to seek congressional authority for any expansion of the military operation in Iraq.
Administration officials plan to make the specific benchmarks public sometime after Bush's speech.
In addition to trying to ease congressional concerns, the administration is trying to instill discipline in an Iraqi government that has been slow to act and hampered by sectarian agendas.
"There will be an approach and a strategy that reflects not only the desire for the Iraqis to take more responsibility but the need for the Iraqis to step up," a senior administration official said. "This is not an open-ended commitment. We are putting real specific requirements and expectations on the Iraqi government."
The Americans and Iraqis have agreed on benchmarks before. Some of the goals that are to be incorporated have been carried over from a list that was hammered out with the Iraqis and made public in October, but never met.
The benchmarks, for example, include a previously stated commitment: setting a date for provincial elections. That goal is intended to enfranchise Sunnis who had initially boycotted the political process and thus give them a role in the governing of Sunni-dominated areas.
Another measure carried over from the old list is the final completion of the long-delayed national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population.
The list of benchmarks will also deal with the still-unresolved matter of settling a new policy on de-Baathification. There is wide agreement among experts that the initial Iraqi approach toward former Baath Party members was too sweeping and excluded too many from government service and entitlements. A revised approach would seek to address those concerns by, for example, paying army pensions to some former Baathists who have been excluded from receiving them.
One important theme of the new Iraqi strategy will be encouraging the government to spend more on projects in Sunni areas. Most of the funds allocated for the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province in western Iraq have never been expended. That has encouraged opposition to the authorities in Baghdad and handicapped the American military's counterinsurgency efforts in the province.
"The assessment has been that the disbursement of funds from the Iraqi government from Baghdad out to the provinces, particularly the Sunni provinces, has been either slow or nonexisting," the senior administration official said. "That has to change."
Bush discussed the need for provincial elections, the enactment of the oil law and reform of Iraq's de-Baathification policy during a video conference with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The Americans have not been the only ones underscoring the need for benchmarks. The Maliki government has pressed to gain direct command of Iraq's 10 army divisions, insisting it should be achieved by June. Some American officials have been concerned that it is overambitious. Nevertheless, an administration official has indicated that it is among the goals.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Brian Knowlton contributed reporting.