Officials skeptical about war’s success

By Steven R. Hurst The Associated Press

BAGHDAD – Even the most enthusiastic supporters of President Bush’s new plan to pacify Baghdad were using phrases such as: “If it succeeds” and “If the Iraqi government lives up to promises.”

Analysts were predicting extreme bloodshed and a catastrophe if the strategy fails.

There were signs of conflict over the new approach almost immediately as the Iraqi government spokesman promptly asserted Baghdad’s right to demand changes in the plan laid out by the American leader.

In contrast to hedged assessments yesterday by Bush administration officials, earlier American thrusts to cleanse the capital of Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen were launched with ambitious predictions of success. All failed to bring about lasting change.

“The progress will be steady toward a goal that has clearly been defined,” Bush predicted in June a day before the announcement of Operation Together Forward, the highly touted crackdown that was to have included tens of thousands of Iraqi and American forces.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, then one month in office, declared his forces would show “no mercy” to terrorists.

“The terrorists cannot face such power,” Iraqi army Brig. Jalil Khalaf said at the time.

Four months later, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the main U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the drive against sectarian violence had not delivered the desired results.

“Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in the level of violence,” Caldwell said, declaring that “the violence is indeed disheartening.”

With that difficult admission of failure fresh in mind, administration officials did not even give a name to the new U.S.-Iraqi bid to scour Baghdad neighborhoods clean of Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen.

And they spoke with extreme caution of a plan that will see an additional 21,500 American troops sent to Iraq.

“If this strategy is successful, over time we will see a lessening of violence in Baghdad,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said, standing at the side of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington.