A new US plan to boost American forces and secure Baghdad will target Iranian and Syrian networks in Iraq but its success is not guaranteed, top US officials said in the Iraqi capital.

The plan presented by US President George W. Bush last week has “no guarantees of success and it’s not going to happen overnight,” General George Casey acknowledged.

But Casey, the outgoing US military commander in Iraq, told a joint press conference along with US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad: “With sustained efforts this can work.”

Putting a calendar on results for the first time, he said that effects of the plan should be seen by mid to late 2007.

Khalilzad said the plan also “seeks to change the behaviour of Iran and Syria, going after their networks in Iraq that are attacking coalition forces and undermining Iraqi security.

“We have already taken steps by moving against Iranian EFP (explosively formed projectiles) networks associated with Iranian Quds forces,” Zhalilzad said on Monday.

He referred to the capture last week by US forces of five Iranians who were detained in northern Iraq and accused of being linked to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard.

US officials allege that Iran is exporting so-called EFPs, which are specially shaped charges that direct the blast and are able to penetrate thick US armour. They are widely used in roadside bomb attacks.

Iran insists the detainees are all consular officials but Khalilzad said: “They are foreign intelligence agents from Al-Quds force, working to destroy Iraq.

“They are not diplomats. They had no diplomatic status.”

On Wednesday, Bush announced a major policy shift for Iraq after nearly four years of escalating violence, saying that he was adding 21,500 soldiers to the 132,000 US troops deployed in the country.

Bush said the fresh troops would focus on thwarting insurgents and sectarian violence in Baghdad and the unruly western province of Anbar in tandem with a renewed push by the Iraqi government to achieve political reconciliation among the rival Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

His plan was slammed by opposition Democrats in the US Congress, however, and won only lukewarm backing from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But Khalilzad, who is also to step down soon, told reporters in Baghdad: “I believe this plan is robust and has good prospects for success.”

Casey added that “the plan is Iraqi conceived and Iraqi led but we are involved in every step.”

The US general stressed that rogue Shiite forces believed to be behind much of the country’s chronic sectarian violence would be targeted in the new plan.

“Militias will not be allowed to be an alternative to the state or to provide and to take on local security around the country,” Casey said.

Khalilzad added: “There will be no sanctuaries for criminals or murderers.

“Military commanders will have freedom of action without political interference. They won’t be told don’t do this or don’t go in this or that neighbourhood. The operation will continue until the job is done.”

Casey also insisted that the plan although Iraqi led would not put American troops at extra risk.

“It is an Iraqi conceived plan but we are involved at every step. American forces will remain under American command. Period.”

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse

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