Maliki asked Bush for more troops

Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki asked President George W. Bush to send more troops to his civil-war torn country and promised, in exchange, to step up Iraqi efforts to provide its own security, GOP Senator Gordon Smith said Monday.

Smith, who in December said Bush’s action in the failed Iraq war “bordered on criminal,” attended a meeting between Republican senators and top administration officials who confirmed the President’s plans to send in 20,000 more troops.

“It was clear to me that a decision has been made for a surge of, I suppose, 20,000 additional troops,” Smith of Oregon told reporters in a telephone conference call after the White House meeting.

The Iraqi commitments from Maliki included providing more military divisions, promising to use certain tactics without regard to religious sects, and a promise not to shield Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Smith said.

Sadr’s Mehdi Army is blamed by Washington and Sunni Arabs for operating death squads.

The 20,000 was not a definite number for the planned boost in U.S. troops, Smith said. “He (Bush) did not affirm that would be the number but he, as I recall, said roughly an additional amount of that number,” Smith said.

Bush is expected to announce his plan for Iraq in an address on Wednesday evening.

“He (Bush) went at great length to say how impressed he was that Prime Minister Maliki would come to them with a plan as to what was needed to restore the political processes of Iraq,” Smith said. Bush thought that “because this was their (the Iraqis’) proposal, they would come through,” Smith said.

Smith, a former supporter of the war, late last year joined war critics in the Republican party, denouncing U.S. policy in Iraq as “absurd” and “criminal.”

Smith said he did not yet have enough information to decide whether to support Bush’s new plan, but added: “I wish I had more faith in Maliki than I do.”

“The president has that faith and it frankly remains to be seen whether their part of the bargain will be met,” he said.

As for the other senators at Monday’s meeting, Smith said, their reactions ranged from “whole hearted-support” to “skepticism.” His office said there were about a dozen senators present.

Smith said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten also attended the meeting.

(This article includes information from Reuters News Service)