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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Will Send More Troops to Iraq

BAGHDAD -- U.S. President George W. Bush announced that he would send to Iraq 20,000 more U.S. troops to halt the country's collapse into civil war, but many Iraqis -- and the president's opponents in Congress -- were skeptical that the increase could do much good.

"To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale," Bush said in a televised address Wednesday, rejecting calls to begin a gradual withdrawal.

As voters questioned the value of adding to the 3,000 U.S. troops killed in Iraq, Bush said the Iraqi government must keep promises to rein in militants on all sides in order to retain his backing -- restating a condition that some analysts see as pre-emptively shifting responsibility for any future failure to end the bloodshed.

"America's commitment is not open-ended," said Bush, whose own term, indelibly marked by the Iraq war, ends in two years.

"If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people," he said, making a rare acknowledgment of past errors. "The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice and resolve."

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to lead the new Baghdad security operation and indicated that it will strike not only insurgents from Saddam Hussein's once dominant Sunni minority but also militias loyal to fellow Shiites -- a key demand of Washington and Sunnis, who say Iran is backing Shiite gunmen.

Responses to the latest plan highlighted sectarian divides, with Sunnis hoping for the best and many Shiites increasingly resentful of the continued presence of the U.S. military.

Maliki's spokesman repeated on Thursday that Iraq had played a full role in the plan and that "militias ... outside the government will be considered illegal," but he could not yet say when the plan might go into effect.

Bush renewed complaints about the role of Syria and Shiite Iran in Iraq, and U.S. troops raided an Iranian consular office in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil overnight, arresting five Iranians in the second such operation in the past month.

In Sadr City, the Baghdad slum and bastion of the al-Mahdi Army, a militia led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, residents said U.S. and Iraqi troops staged an overnight raid on militants.

Such raids are not uncommon but Sunni leaders complain -- as U.S. commanders have done -- that too little was done last year to strike Shiite groups blamed for some of the death squad killings. Police found 60 bodies around the city Wednesday alone, and many thousands have fled their homes.

Bush's Democratic opponents, now controlling Congress, vowed to resist but are unlikely to block a four-month phased increase of 21,500 troops, which would push the U.S. force in Iraq, now at 127,000 according to the military, back to its level four months ago when its previous push to secure Baghdad was failing.

"We are in a hole in Iraq and the president says that the way out is to dig deeper. Does that make sense?" said U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat.

"Bush is a prisoner of his own dreams," said Mohammad Bashar al-Fhaidi, a leading clerical official for Iraqi Sunnis. "The American president is ignoring the dangerous political reality in Iraq," he told Al-Arabiya television, saying Shiite leaders were pursuing a sectarian course to shut out the Sunnis.