Maliki to Bush: Take the troops out

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki proposed to President George W. Bush in November to withdraw US troops from Baghdad and let the Iraqi government take over security in the capital, a newspaper reported.

Citing interviews with several unnamed administration officials, the Washington Post wrote that Maliki made the suggestion in a presentation to Bush on November 30 in Amman, Jordan.

But soon after, Bush rejected the idea, the paper said.

Instead, the president opted for a strategy announced this month to deploy an additional 21,500 US troops to Iraq, focusing on quelling sectarian violence in Baghdad and the western al-Anbar province.

Bush and his senior aides have defended the approach as the best way of supporting Iraq’s government but according to the Post’s account, the Iraqi prime minister wanted US soldiers to withdraw to the outskirts of the capital and let his own government’s forces handle security.

Maliki’s presentation was seen as unrealistic, but a promising sign he was taking a more bold approach to defusing the sectarian bloodshed, a White House official told the paper.

“We all recognized it was too ambitious,” Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, was quoted as saying.

The White House did not immediately comment on the story when contacted by AFP.

Bush has faced stinging criticism for his decision among Democrats and some Republicans in Congress with opinion polls showing a majority of Americans opposed to the plan.

During an exhaustive review of US policy on Iraq conducted since November, Bush began leaning toward increasing the number of troops in Iraq but he encountered repeated “resistance” from the commander of US forces in Iraq, General George Casey, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Post said.

In December, the newly appointed secretary of defense, Robert Gates, travelled to Iraq and won Casey’s agreement for more US troops “on the understanding that the commander would no longer be held back by the Iraqi government and that the United States would address the country’s economic needs,” the paper wrote.

One unnamed aide to Bush told the Post the president had not overuled top military generals.

“He was not overriding his commanders,” the Bush aide was quoted as saying. “But he was pushing them to identify what went wrong and what do we need to change what happened.”

In Baghdad, the US military said on Sunday more than 3,000 US paratroopers have arrived as part of the planned reinforcement designed to bolster security.

On Saturday, a helicopter crash, a gunbattle and bomb attacks claimed the lives of 25 US soldiers, one of the highest US death tolls since US-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003.

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