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New Bush Strategy For Iraq Makes Sense Says Blair

British PM Tony Blair. Photo courtesy AFP

Pentagon denies raid targeted Iranian consulate
Washington (AFP) Jan 11 - A Pentagon spokesman denied Thursday that a building raided by US forces in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil was an Iranian consulate. "I can confirm for you through our forces there that this is not a consulate or a government building," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. Whitman said he did not know the nationality of the six people detained in the raid but said they were "suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces."

Iranian officials said five consular employees were arrested in a US raid on an Iranian consulate in Arbil. "We don't know the reason for this," an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad told AFP on condition of anonymity. "The Americans arrested five employees and took all the computers and documentation."

by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Jan 11, 2007
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that US President George W. Bush's policy switch in Iraq "makes sense", while his foreign minister stressed it did not necessarily herald "a change of direction" from London. "Given the conditions in Baghdad at the moment, I think it makes sense for them to increase the number of their forces, provided it's to back up an increasing Iraqi capability," Blair said in a television interview.

Bush is sending 21,500 extra US troops to Iraq, while Britain's policy is to pull back troops and hand areas including the second city of Basra over to Iraqi control.

But Blair insisted that troops from the two different countries faced different situations.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett seemed to leave the door open for a possible change in British policy, saying it was not the government's intention "at the present time" to send more troops.

"Obviously it's an issue that people will look at but I would say that it's a change of direction, as the president says, for the United States and doesn't necessarily imply a change of direction for us," she said.

Speaking at a joint session of parliament's defence and foreign affairs select committees, she added that the implications of the US change in policy for Britain would be "somewhat limited".

Blair emphasised that Britain's situation in Basra, southern Iraq, was not comparable to the one faced by the US in the Iraqi capital and said it would be a "misunderstanding" to say that the two countries' policies were diverging.

"The truth is the conditions in Baghdad are different from those in Basra.

"The reason why the Americans are having to surge forces in Baghdad is because the security condition there is completely different," Blair told Westcountry Television during a visit to southwest England.

Britain has to grapple with rival Shiite power blocs while US troops face not only a Sunni Muslim insurgency backed at times by foreign Islamist fighters but also spiraling Shiite-Sunni violence.

Blair said that in Basra, "we don't have the same type of sectarian fighting, we don't have Al-Qaeda operating in the same way" as in Baghdad.

Asked about a report in the Daily Telegraph newspaper that Britain would pull out around 2,700 troops from southern Iraq by the end of May, he would only say it was right that Britain moved to a "support role" once the Iraqi authorities could handle their own security.

The broadsheet said Blair, who is facing growing political and popular opposition to the war in Iraq, will announce the decision within the next two weeks.

It said that after Basra comes under Iraqi control in a few months, the British Army will redeploy to a major base being expanded at Basra air station, while a 200-strong force will remain in central Basra.

Maysan province, currently patrolled by 600 Queen's Royal Lancers, will be handed over by the end of February, according to the report.

Blair's official spokesman said it was premature to talk of withdrawal dates.

With the second-largest troop deployment in Iraq, Britain has been the United States' staunchest ally since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq which toppled the dictator Saddam Hussein.

In a televised address Wednesday, Bush took the blame for strategic blunders in Iraq, ordered 21,500 more US troops into battle, and warned Baghdad's leaders to do more to shore up ebbing US support.

Bush said he aimed to crush terrorists, insurgents and rogue militias and help Iraq's security forces take control of the country by November.

earlier related report
Bush Iraq plan 'doesn't necessarily change' British stand
London (AFP) Jan 11 - Britain said Thursday that US President George W. Bush's order to deploy more than 20,000 extra troops to Iraq did not "necessarily imply a change in direction" by London, which plans to reduce its forces in the country. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, while hailing Bush's new strategy, underlined that Britain certainly has no plans to increase its own military presence in the south of the country.

Beckett welcomed Bush's decision to send 21,500 additional troops and other measures that are backed by the fledgling Iraqi government.

However, she told reporters before a morning cabinet meeting that "we're not in the same position" in Shiite Muslim southern Iraq as the United States is in the rest of the country.

Britain has to grapple with rival Shiite power blocs while US troops face not only a Sunni Muslim insurgency backed at times by foreign Islamist fighters but also spiraling Shiite-Sunni violence bordering on civil war.

"It is not our intention at the present time to send more troops," said Beckett.

"We are progressively handing over responsibility to Iraqi forces and to Iraqi police. That is continuing."

Beckett left the door open to some change in British policy, however slight, while giving evidence to a joint session of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Select Committees in parliament.

The implications of the US change in policy for Britain would be "somewhat limited," she said.

"Obviously it's an issue that people will look at but I would say that it's a change of direction, as the president says, for the United States and doesn't necessarily imply a change of direction for us," she said.

The British government has said it hopes to pull back "thousands" of its 7,200 troops deployed in the southern city of Basra by the end of this year, so long as an ongoing security operation there is successful.

Beckett dismissed as speculation a report in The Daily Telegraph which said Britain will pull out around 2,700 troops from southern Iraq by the end of May.

The newspaper said Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is facing growing political and popular opposition to the war in Iraq, will announce the decision within the next two weeks.

It said that after Basra comes under Iraqi control in a few months, the British Army will redeploy to a major base being expanded at Basra air station, while a 200-strong force will remain in central Basra.

Maysan province, currently patrolled by 600 Queen's Royal Lancers, will be handed over by the end of February, according to the report.

Blair's official spokesman also said it was premature to talk of withdrawal dates.

The British army transferred control to Iraqi forces in the middle of last year in Al-Muthanna and Dhi Qar, two of the four provinces in the British sector.

With the second-largest troop deployment in Iraq, Britain has been the United States' staunchest ally since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq which toppled the dictator Saddam Hussein.

In a televised address Wednesday, Bush took the blame for strategic blunders in Iraq, ordered 21,500 more US troops into battle, and warned Baghdad's leaders to do more to shore up ebbing US support.

Bush said he aimed to crush terrorists, insurgents and rogue militias and help Iraq's security forces take control of the country by November.

earlier related report
Bush Speech Falls Flat In Europe
by Stefan Nicola - UPI Germany Correspondent
Berlin (UPI) Jan 11 - Analysts and politicians in Europe are unhappy about U.S. President George W. Bush's new Iraq strategy, which they say will fail as a last-ditch effort to bring stability to the restive country.Bush Wednesday evening in a televised prime-time speech presented his long-awaited new strategy for Iraq: The president's plan calls for the deployment of some additional 21,500 troops, sets benchmarks for the Iraqi government and increases financial aid for the country, in a final attempt to turn around a bloody nation-building campaign.

Politicians in Europe have reacted in a very cautious manner to the Bush speech.

U.S. success in Iraq is of course desirable, Karsten Voigt, coordinator for German-American cooperation in the German Foreign Office, Thursday told a German radio station. "But in the past, the U.S. president has often proved to be too optimistic," he said.

Voigt said he didn't expect the U.S. to succeed in establishing a functioning and stable democracy in Iraq. He would be "happy" if Washington only managed to prevent a civil war from breaking out, he said.

A German analyst said the strategy change is nothing more than damage control.

Washington only wants "to exit Iraq relatively undamaged and without losing its face," Jochen Hippler, an Iraq expert at the University Duisburg-Essen, Thursday told German online daily Netzeitung.

Additional soldiers, he said, would not turn around the situation on the ground.

"As late as 2003, it would have been possible to economically and politically stabilize the country," he said. But that chance had now passed, and Iraq's ailing economy would not recover by additional financial means, some $1 billion of which Bush had pledged to spend.

"If this week a pipeline is repaired and next week it is again destroyed, then you can spend a lot of money without achieving anything," Hippler said.

Not all analysts in Europe are downright negative, however.

Jan-Friedrich Kallmorgen, a trans-Atlantic expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, Thursday told United Press International that a positive step was Bush's admission that mistakes had been made.

"And as proposed by the Baker-Hamilton report, the Iraqi government now has been handed a series of benchmarks it has to achieve," he said.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Iraq needed a "comprehensive approach, a political strategy," a label that observers would not likely tag to the new Bush strategy.

Britain, one of Bush's most steadfast allies, welcomed the commitment of more U.S. troops to Iraq, but quickly added London had no such plans.

"It is not our intention to send more troops at present," U.K. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told reporters Thursday. "It has always been the case we make our own progress and our own decisions."

Bush proved that he also makes his own decisions, roughly a month after a prominent report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group handed him a series of proposals on how to turn around Iraq.

Several key aspects of the Baker-Hamilton report, such as the need for a broader Middle East strategy that includes diplomatic relations with Syria and Iran, have been ignored. Such regional diplomacy has also been promoted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In his speech, Bush lashed out against the governments of those countries, saying they were "allowing terrorists to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq." Bush added Iran was providing material support for attacks on American troops.

A day after the speech, U.S. military stormed the Iranian consulate in Irbil, in the Kurdish northern region of Iraq, generally considered a haven free of the roadside bombs and the sectarian violence that threaten the rest of the country.

They confiscated computer and paper files and arrested five people, the Kurdish regional authority said. The Iranian government has protested.

While Kallmorgen admitted that the U.S. approach when it comes to dealing with Iran and Syria was "completely different" from the European and moderate realist one in the United States, he said such differences would not result in quarrels between the U.S. and its allies. Europe's governments, and especially the big three (Germany, Britain and France), could try to be successful by using the diplomatic channels, while the U.S. focuses on military strategies, he said.

"That could be an effective work sharing," he told UPI.

Source: Agence France-Presse

Source: United Press International

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US To Beef Up Army And Marines By 92,000
Washington (AFP) Jan 11, 2007
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday he would seek to expand overall US armed forces by 92,000, saying it was not known how long a beefed-up US force would be needed in Iraq. He spoke a day after President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq as part of a major shift in war strategy.







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