The Iraqi government has presented the Bush administration with a new plan that calls for Iraqi troops to assume the primary responsibility for security in Baghdad early next year while U.S. troops would be shifted to the periphery of the capital.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, said in an interview that the plan was presented during the recent meeting in Amman between President George W. Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
"I think it is extremely important they reduce their visibility and they reduce their presence," Rubaie said of the U.S. troops in Baghdad. "They should be in the suburbs within greater Baghdad."
A spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe, said that General George Casey Jr., the senior U.S. military commander in Iraq, was assessing the plan.
The plan may hold some attraction for the Bush administration, which is immersed in a review of Iraq strategy, but it also poses risks. It is consistent with the administration's desire for the Iraqis to take more responsibility for controlling the violence in their country, and it might lead to a reduction in U.S. casualties.
But U.S. officials do not want to become complicit in sectarian violence in the capital. The Shiite-led government has been slow to act against militias that are forcing Sunnis from entire swaths of northern and eastern Baghdad. Because some of its forces, from both the police and army, are infiltrated by militias and have been implicated in previous attacks on Sunnis, U.S. commanders — and Sunni politicians — fear that given a free hand, government forces could be used to cleanse the city of Sunnis.
Referring to the Iraqi demand for more control, one U.S. military officer in Baghdad said, "How do we accomplish that but still maintain some measure of control to ensure the forces aren't used in a sectarian manner?"
In response to the Iraqi demands for control, the U.S. military command in Baghdad has also been developing its own plan, which comes with a set of conditions that must be met before control is handed over, according to U.S. officials in Baghdad who asked to remain unidentified because the plan is not final.
The Iraqi plan was outlined by Rubaie in a recent interview in Bahrain, where he was attending a conference. While the Shiite government has been pushing for greater Iraqi control of military operations for several months, the plan was presented formally for the first time to the Americans in Jordan.
The plan calls for pulling back most U.S. troops from central Baghdad and redefining their mission so that they concentrate primarily on fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq and Sunni-based insurgent organizations, leaving the effort to quell sectarian tensions within the capital to the government's largely Shiite forces.
Under the plan, the Iraqi government would have direct command of the two Iraqi divisions in Baghdad by the first quarter of next year. The divisions would be reinforced by two largely Kurdish brigades that are to be sent to the capital from Sulaimaniya and Erbil in northern Iraq. That would amount to several thousand more Iraqi troops.
U.S. troops would be shifted to the periphery of Baghdad, though some would remain as advisers to Iraqi units in Baghdad. U.S. forces might also remain in a supporting role at bases within the capital.
The plan has seriously alarmed Sunni politicians, who said that they could not imagine that the Americans would turn security over to a government they see as deeply sectarian. "It will be a disaster," said Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, speaker of the Iraqi Parliament and a Sunni. "I think the Americans are not so stupid to do that. The city would be a safe place for the militias."
Michael R. Gordon reported from Washington and Sabrina Tavernise from Baghdad. David S. Cloud and David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.
Bomb explodes in Shiite area
A car bomb exploded near a crowded bus stop in a mostly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad on Wednesday during the morning rush hour, killing 11 people and wounding 27, The Associated Press reported from Baghdad.
Abu Haider al-Kaabi, one witness, said that a Volkswagen car exploded near the bus stop, hitting a group of people, including women and children, who were waiting to take a bus to a fruit and vegetable market.
In other attacks in Iraq, men armed with guns and explosives destroyed a small Shiite shrine in Baquba early Wednesday, causing no injuries, and gunmen killed nine members of a Shiite family in an attack on their house in Hasna village south of the capital, the police said.
Iraqi troops also opened fire on two suicide car bombers who drove up to the headquarters of the Iraqi Army's 2nd Battalion near the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, but the attackers set off their explosions, killing 4 soldiers and wounding 10, said Major General Anwar Muhammad Amin.
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