Bush Works To Rally Support for Iraq 'Surge'
By Michael AbramowitzWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, January 9, 2007; Page A01
President Bush yesterday began promoting his plan to send more troops to Iraq, bringing more than 30 Republican senators to the White House as part of a major campaign to rally the American people behind another effort to stabilize the country.
Senators who met with Bush said the president made it clear that he is planning to add as many as 20,000 U.S. troops to help quell violence in Baghdad. They also said the president is arguing that his new plan has a better chance for success than past plans because of a greater willingness of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to commit Iraqi forces against all perpetrators of violence, including Shiite militias.
"It was clear to me that a decision has been made for a surge" of at least 20,000 additional troops, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said in a conference call with reporters. Smith said Bush believes "that the political processes have been overtaken by sectarian violence and that sectarian violence must be quelled so political processes can be restored."
Aides said Bush will formally unveil his new plans for Iraq in a nationally televised address from the White House tomorrow night; the speech looms as one of the most significant of his tenure. Even administration officials and friendly Republicans said the bar is much higher for Bush than with past speeches on Iraq, given the widespread disenchantment over the war and the deep skepticism, shared even by some Republicans, that more troops are part of the answer.
In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, six in 10 respondents said the war is not worth fighting, three-quarters disapproved of how Bush has handled the situation, and there was no consensus about how the United States should adjust its policies in Iraq. Only 17 percent called for an increase in U.S. forces, the "surge" believed to be a centerpiece of the new Bush plan.
Bush intends to present his revised strategy as being in support of Maliki's new plan for securing Baghdad, which the prime minister outlined on Saturday, senior U.S. officials said. The mission will include an understanding that joint U.S.-Iraqi forces will confront the Mahdi Army -- the biggest, best-armed militia and one that Maliki, a fellow Shiite, has been reluctant to face down -- as well as other illegal armed factions, both Shiite and Sunni.
The United States hopes to avoid conducting large-scale operations that take it into Sadr City -- the capital's sprawling Shiite slum, with about 2 million people who overwhelmingly support Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr. "Iraqis will take on this plan and lead it. We will be there to support them and be there to help them hold it," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the plan.
But in practice, U.S. forces have often ended up in the forefront of joint combat operations.
The president will also announce expanded U.S. teams, combining civilian and military personnel, to deploy immediately after neighborhoods have been cleared of insurgents or sectarian militias, a U.S. official said.
"It's the biggest speech of his six years," said Ken Duberstein, who was White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan. "If the American people tune him out, the next two years will be very rocky. He really needs to sell the American people that this is a strategy that can be accomplished."
Duberstein said Bush "needs to explain to the American people the lessons that he has learned, which will persuade them that he has gotten the message for a new approach to Iraq."
Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster, said the speech is "going to be a crucial component of how the American people re-look at the president for the last two years" of his term. The challenge facing the White House, he said, "is people have to view the speech and say, 'Oh, this is something different, and he's got a plan and it's got a shot at improving the situation. It's not just, quote, stay the course, unquote.' "
U.S. Denies New Attacks in Somalia
Local official Says Two Dozen Killed in Air Attack Tuesday
By Karen DeYoungWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, January 9, 2007; 1:36 PM
Two days after a U.S. gunship attacked suspected al-Qaeda members in Somalia, American military officials categorically denied reports that another attack had taken place or that U.S. military helicopters were involved in continued strikes.
A local Somali official told news services that about two dozen people had been killed in an air attack on Tuesday. But one U.S. military official said this morning that there was no U.S. involvement in ongoing fighting. "It's a fluid situation," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said Ethiopian forces, who last month ousted Islamist leaders from the Somali capital, continued to clash with remnants of militias supporting the Islamists.
Late Sunday, a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship fired at suspected al-Qaeda members in southern Somalia, and U.S. sources said the operation may have hit a senior terrorist figure.
The strike took place near the Kenyan border, according to a senior officer at the Pentagon. Other sources said it was launched at night from the U.S. military facility in neighboring Djibouti. It was based on joint military-CIA intelligence and on information provided by Ethiopian and Kenyan military forces operating in the border area.
It was the first acknowledged U.S. military action inside Somalia since 1994, when President Bill Clinton withdrew U.S. troops after a failed operation in Mogadishu that led to the deaths of 18 Army Rangers and Delta Force special operations soldiers.
Sources said last night that initial reports indicated the attack had been successful, although information was still scanty.
"You had some figures on the move in a relatively unpopulated part of the country," said one source confirming the attack, who, like several others, would discuss the operation only on the condition of anonymity. "It was a confluence of information and circumstances," he said. The attack was first reported by CBS News.
One target of the strike, sources said, was a Sudanese named Tariq Abdullah, who is better known by the pseudonym Abu Talha al-Sudani. He is married to a Somali woman and has lived in Somalia since 1993 -- the year of the attack against U.S. troops that was chronicled in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." In a 2001 U.S. court case against Osama bin Laden, Sudani was described by a leading witness as an explosives expert who was close to the al-Qaeda leader.
More recently, Sudani was identified by U.S. intelligence as a close associate of Gouled Hassan Dourad, head of a Mogadishu-based network that operated in support of al-Qaeda in Somalia. Dourad is one of 14 "high-value" prisoners transferred last September from CIA "black sites" to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence then disclosed that Dourad "worked for the East African al-Qaeda cell led by . . . al-Sudani" and carried out at least one mission for him, related to a plan to bomb the U.S. military base in Djibouti.
Others have identified Sudani as the financier for Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, believed responsible for the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. All are among the senior al-Qaeda operatives the Bush administration has charged were sheltered by Somali Islamic fundamentalists controlling Mogadishu, the country's capital. They are believed to have fled late last month when Ethiopian troops drove the fundamentalists out of the capital and toward the Kenyan border.
In an interview early Tuesday, Abdirizak Hassan, chief of staff for Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, confirmed the strike. Hassan said he heard from American officials that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed had been killed, although U.S. officials said he had not been in their immediate sights. "Among the targets was Fazul," he said, "and we understand that Fazul is no more."