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Bush meets security team in advance of Iraq speech

Civilian jobs plan, wide strategy seen

Iraqis gathered around a vehicle destroyed in a car bomb attack in Baghdad yesterday. A parked car bomb targeted the convoy of the head of emergency police in the Iraqi capital. (Adil al-Khazali/Associated Press)

WASHINGTON -- President Bush met yesterday with his national security team, and he is expected to announce a new Iraq war strategy as early as Wednesday that will include military, political, and economic components.

The military plan, which already has attracted skepticism from Congress, will probably call for a rapid increase in US troops, according to lawmakers briefed on the plan.

The New York Times reported in today's editions that the president will propose sending up to 20,000 more combat troops to Baghdad. It said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq agreed last week to commit three additional Iraqi brigades to Baghdad as part of the buildup.

The Bush proposal also will include a $1 billion jobs program for Iraqi civilians, the Times said, citing US officials working on the new strategy.

Plans include direct funding for such projects as water and sanitation system repairs, street cleaning, and painting schools, as well as money for job training.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, spoke out against the proposed troop increase the day after Democrats gained control of Congress.

"Based on the advice of current and former military leaders, we believe this tactic would be a serious mistake," Reid said in the Democratic radio address yesterday. Instead, Reid and Pelosi want Bush to begin pulling troops out in four to six months.

"Our troops and their families have already sacrificed a great deal for Iraq," Reid said. "They have done their part. It's time for the Iraqis to do their part."

Bush told more than a dozen senators Friday that he would settle on the troop "surge" option only if the Iraqi government offered certain guarantees, according to senators who attended the meeting.

While lawmakers said they were willing to wait and see the entirety of Bush's plan before dismissing it, members -- including some Republicans -- said they remained deeply skeptical about sending more troops.

"My conclusion was that it would be a mistake to send more troops to Baghdad. I think the sectarian violence there requires a political, not a military, solution," said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who has not yet met with the president.

Representative Heather Wilson, Republican of New Mexico, an Air Force veteran and member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she would not support increasing troop levels "to do for the Iraqis what the Iraqis will not do for themselves."

"I also have not seen a clarity of mission, and I think that's the greatest weakness that we have right now," Wilson said. "We're talking about goals in lofty terms that are not vital American national interests."

Even Senator John McCain, a Republican who advocates sending more troops in Iraq, said he wouldn't support sending in the additional forces unless the number was adequate to finally tamp down the violence.

"I need to know if it's enough or not" and whether the effort would last long enough, McCain said.

McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, i ndependent of Connecticut, said they think at a minimum another three to five brigades should be sent to Baghdad and one more to Anbar province. About 3,500 troops are in a brigade. About 140,000 US troops are in Iraq now.

Differing views also are emerging about whether economic incentives such as small business loans and US-funded jobs programs would help end the violence in Iraq.

Some reconstruction specialists say giving Iraqis jobs would produce little economic benefit for a country on the brink of all-out civil war.

Keith Crane, a senior economist at the RAND Corp., is doubtful because such programs employ insurgents but have little effect on their political activities.

"In some instances, insurgents have participated in make-work schemes during the day, then fought the coalition at night," he says.

Other analysts say it could help lure some Iraqis away from militia groups.

"Job creation is the most promising," said Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. "I don't know why we haven't done it before. It's not the best way to build a new economy, but we need to address security even if that doesn't conform to Econ 101."

Military analysts say Army Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, who recently finished his tour as the number two general in Iraq, has recommended a short-term jobs program.

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