New Bush tack faces Iraqi resistance

Baghdad plan bogs down on command, Sunni-Shiite rivalry

January 15, 2007|By New York Times News Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Just days after President Bush unveiled his new war plan for Iraq, the heart of the effort - a major push to secure the capital - faces some of its fiercest resistance from the very people it depends on for success: Iraqi government officials.

American military officials have spent days huddled in meetings with Iraqi officers in a race to turn blueprints drawn up in Washington into a plan that will work on the ground in Baghdad. With the first American and Iraqi units dedicated to the plan as part of the new troop buildup due to be in place within weeks, time is short for settling details of what American officers view as the decisive battle of the war.

But the signs have unnerved some of the Americans working on the plan, who have described a web of problems, including a vague chain of command and easily disrupted supply lines that some fear could hobble the effort before it begins.

First among these is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy that President Bush has declared central to the plan.

Compounding American concerns about the government's willingness to go after Shiite extremists, the Americans say, has been a behind-the-scenes struggle over the naming of the Iraqi officer to fill the key post of operational commander for the Baghdad mission. In face of strong American skepticism, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has named an officer from the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq who was virtually unknown to the Americans, and whose bullish attitude about Iraqi primacy in the effort has deepened American anxieties.

Against these concerns, American officers cite several factors they believe will lend impetus to the new offensive. The five additional brigades of American troops committed by Bush - approximately 21,500 American soldiers, about 80 percent of them to be deployed in Baghdad - will roughly triple the number of American soldiers available for ground operations.

One positive development noted by American officers is the naming by President Bush of Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus as the new overall American commander in Iraq, succeeding Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who will leave next month after 30 months in command of the war. Petraeus, who has completed two 12-month tours in Iraq, has a reputation among officers who have served under him as an imaginative commander who enlists strong loyalties among his troops.

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