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President Bush is calling for more than 20,000 additional troops to fight the insurgency in Iraq. In a speech from the White House last night, the president laid out what he called a new plan for the U.S. mission there. Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are announcing new initiatives in support of the president's plan. We'll hear more about that in a few minutes.
First, we have this report from NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA: For 20 minutes the president spoke, standing almost motionless, looking into a single camera. He began by recalling another speech he'd delivered from the White House just over a year ago. He described the mood of that speech coming on the heels of Iraqi elections.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together and that as we trained Iraqi security forces we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops. But in 2006 the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made.
GONYEA: The president said the situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people and to him. He added this.
President BUSH: Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.
GONYEA: All this came in the opening minutes of this speech. The president said it's clear that a new strategy is needed and that its primary focus had to be on security. He predicted that by bringing in more than 20,000 additional troops they'll have the personnel to hold onto neighborhoods now held by insurgents, mostly inside Baghdad, bringing some stability to the Iraqi capital and allowing civic institutions to take root. He stressed that this will be an Iraqi operation led by Iraqis with U.S. support.
President BUSH: Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. Well, here are the differences. In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents, but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. This time we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.
GONYEA: He also said that in the past, certain violent neighborhoods and militia targets were off limits because of what the president called political or sectarian interference. Mr. Bush says he's been assured by Prime Minister Maliki that these restraints have been removed.
In the past, the president has rejected timelines for the U.S. mission in Iraq, often using the phrase when Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. But last night that language was replaced by this.
President BUSH: I've made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.
GONYEA: Failure, the president said, would be a disaster for Americans, emboldening terrorists, and hostile nations who would launch attacks on the U.S. The president also said that even with his new plan, the coming year will be one of bloody violence in Iraq.
President BUSH: Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue, and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties. The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will.
GONYEA: The president said he expected his proposals to prompt debate and scrutiny in Congress, where his plan is being criticized by members of both parties. Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, speaking for his fellow Democrats after the speech, called the president's plan an escalation of the war and the wrong response to what voters said in the November elections.
Senator RICHARD DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Twenty thousand American soldiers are too few to end the civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we've already lost.
GONYEA: Today on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will begin defending the president's new plan before committees in the House and Senate.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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