Arabs see little hope

CAIRO (Reuters) — US President George W. Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops will fail to bring peace to Iraq and could aggravate a conflict in which tens of thousands of people have already died, Arab analysts said on Thursday.

Bush, taking advice mainly from a small group of ideologues, has misunderstood the nature of the conflict and is wrong to think that a military solution is possible, they added.

A few analysts in the Gulf, where the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was less unpopular than in the rest of the Arab world, said more troops might help, but it could also be too late.

Bush’s plan, announced early Thursday in the Middle East, overlooks or rejects policy options which the analysts said were essential — dialogue with Iran and Syria, and a determined US effort to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“America is no longer in the driving seat. It has lost Iraq and adding a few thousands troops is not going to help because the situation is beyond fixing,” said Abdel-Khaleq Abdullah, a political scientist in the United Arab Emirates.

Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University, said: “The Bush plan is based on many erroneous assumptions such as thinking that a military solution is possible. I think that is impossible.”

“He has abandoned the classical American pragmatic approach. He considers that he has a vision but he is completely detached from the reality on the ground,” he added.

Hilal Khashan, political scientist at the American University of Beirut, said extra troops would not make a difference and the Iraqi authorities could not impose order, as envisaged in Bush’s plan.

“The Iraqi military has been a recruiting ground for militias and death squads. I can’t see the Iraqi military helping to restore law and order. They are an expanded militia, a party to the conflict,” he added.

The 21,500 extra troops will take the total US force in Iraq to about 150,000, a troop level which the United States has already tried and which falls far short of the level which some military experts recommended at the time of the invasion.

Wishful thinking

The Algerian newspaper Le Quotidien d’Oran said Washington would not have the means or political resources to disarm the factions, stop inter-confessional fighting or insurgent attacks against American troops.

Beirut-based commentator Rami Khouri said it was wishful thinking to imagine that putting in more troops, money and guns could turn things around, and could make them worse.

“I don’t see how more or less doing the same as what you’ve done before but in a small and concentrated dose is going to achieve results,” he said.

Most of the analysts, like their mainstream counterparts in the United States and Europe, said that the key to peace in Iraq must be a compromise between political representatives of the competing sectarian and ideological groups, coupled with a compromise between Iraq’s competing neighbours.

Bush’s approach, similar to his approach to Al Qaeda and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is to give a high priority to force, with less emphasis on compromise or politics, they said.

Hamidreza Jalaiepour, a professor at Tehran University, said: “Bush’s strategy … has been to think about the Middle East and about Iraq and about anywhere else in terms of military action, in terms of military power … His tone and the content of his speech was like before.” “What’s happening in Iraq is not about the lack of boots on the ground. It’s about the political situation that is spiralling out of control,” added Fawaz Gerges, a visiting professor at the American University in Cairo.

In the Gulf, where the United States is seen as a counterweight to Iranian influence in Iraq, several commentators were more sympathetic to Bush’s tactical adjustments.

Abdullah Bishara, president of the Kuwait-based Diplomatic Centre for Strategic Studies, said more US troops should have been sent long ago, but the move was better late than never.

“This will increase the effectiveness of the security measures, weaken the resistance, the daring of the terrorists and the opposition to the legitimate government,” he said.

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