Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rice warns Iran against aggression after US arrests Iranian consular staff

Jan 11 9:27 AM US/Eastern

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran that the United States won't "stand idly by" if Tehran tries to disrupt Washington's renewed effort to stabilize Iraq.

Speaking hours after US troops raided Iran's consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil and arrested five employees, Rice said Washington was determined to crack down on Iran's "regional aggression".

Rice declined to comment specifically on the operation in Arbil, which came shortly after President George W. Bush announced a new US strategy to end the violence in Iraq that included stepped up moves to counter Iranian and Syrian involvement in the country.

She also declined in three television interviews Thursday morning to rule out US military action against Iran, which she and Bush accused of supporting anti-US insurgents and "terrorists" in Iraq and of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

"I don't want to speculate on what operations the United States may be engaged in, but you will see that the United States is not going to simply stand idly by and let these activities continue," she said.

In his speech, Bush also fueled concerns he could be preparing the ground for eventual strikes against Iran by announcing that he had ordered the deployment of an additional aircraft carrier strike group to the region and would provide Patriot anti-missile systems to nearby allies.

"We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq," he said.

Rice said the administration would act to protect its allies "that all fear Iran's moves in the region, fear the regional aggression of Iran".

She added that Iranian meddling in Iraq "is not going to be tolerated".

Rice is due to head to the Middle East on Friday to build support for Bush's new plan for Iraq, which includes adding some 21,000 troops to the current US force of 132,000 soldiers in the country and setting "benchmarks" for action by the Iraqi government to achieve political reconciliation.

She will visit Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where she will meet her with her counterparts from the six Gulf monarchies.

Rice will also meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about their long-stalled peace efforts.
Rice acknowledged Thursday that after nearly four years of war and numerous failed attempts to stabilize Iraq, many doubted whether Bush's latest strategy would work.

"We understand in the debate there's a lot of skepticism about where the war is going, skepticism about whether or not the Iraqi government will really step up this time," she said.
"But I've talked to these Iraqi leaders and they know the consequences personally and for their country and they are ready to take on this challenge," she said.

Bush's stark warnings to Iran and the announcement of new military deployments to the region set off alarm bells among opponents who have long suspected the administration of plotting for regime change in the Islamic Republic.

"Isn't one war enough for this president?" asked Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich, an Iraq war opponent and contender for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination.
Bush "appears to be setting the stage for a wider war in the region," Kucinich said.

Iran condemned the arrest of consular staff in Arbil, accusing Washington of violating international law and stirring up tension among Iraq's neighbours.

US military official in Iraq confirmed only that six

Last month US forces detained two Iranian nationals on suspicion of weapons smuggling in a raid in Baghdad, but the pair were later handed over to Iranian officials in Baghdad.

Tension between Iran and the United States has soared after the UN Security Council voted last month to impose sanctions on Iran's nuclear programme and Tehran vowed to start immediately expanding its capacity to enrich uranium.

Washington accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge vehemently denied by the oil-rich Islamic republic, which says it only wants to provide atomic energy to a growing population.

Bush vows surge to fix 'mistake'

By Joseph Curl and Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
January 11, 2007

President Bush last night conceded that he made a mistake by failing to increase troops in Iraq last year and committed to boosting more than 21,000 troops, setting up a battle with the congressional Democrats, who vowed to fight the new war strategy.

In rejecting the Iraq Study Group's call to withdraw most combat troops within 15 months, the president will push the U.S. military presence in Iraq to its highest level in more than a year.

His plan, revealed last night in a prime-time address to the nation, came with no timetable, and senior administration officials said yesterday that the so-called "surge" in troops has no set end.

But the president said the U.S. commitment to help Iraqis secure the war-torn nation is finite. In the 20-minute speech, the president demanded swift action by the fledgling government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has refused to crack down on the Shi'ite militias responsible for the recent spike in sectarian violence.

"I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. The prime minister understands this," he said.

The new strategy will increase U.S. troops in Iraq to about 153,500 at an extra cost of $5.6 billion through the rest of this fiscal year.

The first of five brigades will arrive by Monday; the next, a month later, with the rest coming in monthly increments. The bulk of the "new" troops will be soldiers and Marines already scheduled to go to Iraq, but whose deployments will be extended.

Although he has previously acknowledged making mistakes in Iraq, Mr. Bush yesterday said he was wrong both in his decision-making and in his assumptions.

"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," he said. "The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people -- and it is unacceptable to me."

But by pushing for an escalation, Mr. Bush runs smack into Democrats, the new majority party in Congress, who say they reflect American voters' desire to begin bringing troops back home.

"This is the third time we are going down this path. Two times this has not worked," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. "Why are they doing this now? That question remains."

The president called top Democrats and Republicans to the White House hours before yesterday's speech to brief them. The late hour drew scorn from Democrats, who said that didn't fit with Mr. Bush's postelection promise to consult them more.

"The president's practicing his speech right now," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. "We had a conversation today that has no impact on what he's going to say."

Congress' four top Democrats -- Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Reid, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland -- issued a joint statement after the speech, saying that the proposal "endangers our national security by placing additional burdens on our already overextended military" and discourages the Iraqi government from taking "the necessary steps to achieve a political resolution to the sectarian problems."

Some Republican lawmakers said they also are skeptical that a surge in troops can achieve much.

"The generals who have served there do not believe additional troops alone will help," said Sen George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, who said he also lacks faith in Mr. al-Maliki "to make the hard choices necessary to bring about a political solution."

But Mr. Bush said that fighting in Iraq makes the United States safer and that his plan will bring the troops home faster.

"If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home," he said.

The president promised lawmakers that if they "have improvements that can be made, we will make them," and took the suggestion of Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, to form a new bipartisan working group to improve relations between the administration and Congress on the war on terror.

But he also challenged critics to prove how their alternatives would "be more likely to succeed."

The new strategy sets up a fierce conflict on Capitol Hill, one that could create a constitutional issue over presidential war powers.

Some Democrats, led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, want to rescind the resolution authorizing the president to use force in Iraq. But Democratic leaders prefer a less bruising strategy, calling for a nonbinding resolution that would signal Congress' opposition to the surge in troops.

The president said that despite two previous shifts in strategy that failed, his new plan takes into account the source of the violence, and sets "benchmarks" for Iraqis to meet.

Iraqis will take the lead in battling sectarian violence as Americans step back into a support role, and the young government will deploy three additional Iraqi army brigades -- up to 12,000 soldiers -- in and around Baghdad, where the administration says 80 percent of the violence occurs.

"Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it," he said.

After nearly four years of war, the president redefined what victory in Iraq will look like.

"Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship," he said, alluding to the end of World War II. "A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them -- and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren."

But he also was grim about the coming year in Iraq, which he predicted would be "bloody and violent" and bring "more Iraqi and American casualties."

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a proponent of increasing U.S. forces, agreed with that forecast: "Is it going to be a strain on the military? Absolutely. Casualties are going to go up."

The president's speech also was uncharacteristically equivocal when he sought to assure Americans that his plan will work.

"The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will," he said.

In documents supporting the speech, the White House said Mr. Bush had assumed that other governments would back Iraq's new leaders. But Iraq's neighbors "remain wary of throwing their full support" behind Mr. al-Maliki's government. And the White House acknowledged that the U.S.-led coalition has lost the confidence of the Iraqi people, who are "increasingly disillusioned."

Mr. Bush's plans call for more than 17,000 U.S. soldiers to be deployed to Baghdad to handle sectarian violence. Also, 4,000 Marines will be sent to the Anbar province, where al Qaeda is the problem. In addition, the president said he has "recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region."

He said he was accepting the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to embed U.S. troops with Iraqi units to help with on-the-job training.

But he didn't accept the panel's suggestion that the U.S. begin direct talks with Iran and Syria and pledged instead to "interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria," which he said is aiding attacks on U.S. troops.

He also acknowledged the failures of several previous efforts to secure Baghdad but explained why he thought this effort would be different.

"Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents," the president said. "And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have."

He said American commanders have reviewed the Iraqi plan "to ensure that it addressed these mistakes."

"This time, we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared," he said, adding that Mr. al-Maliki has promised to give his commanders enough authority, including going after sectarian militias.

Right now, Iraq's military is in control in three of the nation's provinces, but Mr. Bush said the government has committed to taking control in all 18 provinces by November.

The president said the new plan relies on a strategy the Iraqis drew up themselves and presented to the president when he met Mr. al-Maliki in Jordan after Thanksgiving.

The speech drew about 50 protesters, who chanted outside the White House: "Stop the war" and held up signs dismissing the speech as "words of mass deception."