Rice Pledges More Civilian Advisers To Assist Iraq

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq is much broader than the central proposal of increasing the U.S. military presence in Baghdad, Iraq, in an attempt to restore order to the Iraqi capital, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Senate committee January 11.

The president presented his new strategy to the American people in a January 10 televised address. (See related article.)

“[W]e're very focused on the need to return control to Baghdad, but we're also very focused on the need to build capacity in the local and provincial governments, and to be able to deliver economic and reconstruction assistance there,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Rice said that under the new plan, the State Department would deploy several hundred additional civilian advisers in parallel with the increase in U.S. troops.  The intention, she said, is to move more civilian advisers into provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) working with local officials outside Baghdad.

Currently, the United States and its coalition partners operate 10 PRTs in Iraq.  In her written statement, Rice said the administration plans to establish eight more.

The secretary said it is important to ensure that Iraq’s central government is strong and effective but “equally important to have local and provincial governments that can deliver for their people.  And indeed this gives us multiple points for success, not just the government in Baghdad but the people with whom we're working in the provinces.”

This would help the United States achieve its goal of fostering better governance and economic opportunity throughout the country, she said.

Rice emphasized that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended.  “We want Iraqis to rely more … on their own resources … people, and … efforts,” she said in her written statement.  “Therefore, by 2008 and 2009, the burden of local assistance should be assumed more effectively by the Iraqi government.”

The secretary said the Bush administration has a “regional approach” to dealing with the challenges in Iraq - “to work with those governments that share our view of where the Middle East should be going.”  She included in that group what she called the “reformers and responsible leaders” of the region.

But she excluded Iran and Syria, saying, “Iran and Syria have made their choice … to destabilize, not to stabilize.”  Her statement seemed a response to calls from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and from some members of Congress for the United States to engage those two countries in a diplomatic dialogue about Iraq.

Rice said the price Iran and Syria would demand for their cooperation is unacceptable.  Iran, she said, would want concessions on its nuclear program while Syria would demand concessions related to its activities in Lebanon.

The secretary echoed President Bush’s sentiment that the current situation in Iraq is “unacceptable.”  She said the sectarian violence sparked by the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra threatens to overwhelm the national reconciliation process that produced peaceful elections and a constitution.  She said the United States’ most urgent task is to help the Iraqi government restore security and establish confidence among its people, but she emphasized that success in this area depends primarily on the Iraqis.

“They are the only ones who can decide whether or not Iraq is in fact going to be an Iraq for all Iraqis, one that is unified, or whether they are going to allow sectarian passions to unravel that chance for a unified Iraq,” she said.


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden expressed skepticism at the president’s new plan.  “We all hoped and prayed that the president would present us with a plan that would make things better,” he told the secretary.  “Instead, I fear that what the president has proposed is more likely to make things worse.”

He said an increase in U.S. forces in Baghdad has failed to improve the security situation on two previous occasions, and he speculated that it would fail again.

“I believe the president's strategy is not a solution, Secretary Rice.  I believe it's a tragic mistake,” Biden said.

Senator Richard Lugar, the committee chair in the previous Congress, offered a more optimistic assessment of the president’s plan.  “Yesterday, I said that, initially, the president and his team should explain what objectives we are trying to achieve if forces are expanded, where and how will they be used, why such a strategy will succeed, how Iraqi forces will be involved, how long additional troops may be needed, what contingencies are in place if the situation does not improve, and how this strategy fits into our discussions throughout the region,” he said.  “The president made an important start on this process with his speech.”

For more information on U.S. policies, see Iraq Update