Bush to offer $1bn in aid and 20,000 troops to Iraq

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The Independent Online

Iraqi troops are mounting a concerted effort to restore peace to the streets of Baghdad as President George Bush prepares to unveil his new strategy for the country. But despite their efforts at least 14 people were killed yesterday in a series of bombings and shootings.

President Bush is widely expected to order as many as 20,000 new US combat troops to Baghdad in a renewed "push" against the insurgents. The troops will be based in Baghdad and Anbar province with a back-up force in Kuwait.

The US is also planning to pump up to $1bn (£500m) into Iraq's shattered economy to boost morale. The details of the plan - from painting schools to cleaning streets - have a ring of earlier failed initiatives launched with high hopes by the US military.

Mr Bush's high-risk strategy is being unveiled amid deep unease in Washington about the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The guards who taunted and abused Saddam Hussein at his execution have been linked to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia militia leader and a supporter of Mr Maliki. "If that's an indication of how Maliki is operating these days, we've got a deeper problem with the bigger effort," a senior US official told The New York Times.

The plan also puts Mr Bush on a collision course with the leaders of the new Democratic Congress. The leadership told him by letter on Friday that the US needs to move instead to a phased withdrawal of American troops, to begin in the next four months.

Mr Bush is expected to address the country on Wednesday and to describe the plan as a joint effort by the US and Iraq to reclaim the control of Baghdad. The "push" in Baghdad is extremely unpopular domestically for the President and is scheduled to last for no more than a year.

US politicians discussed the options on the Sunday morning talk shows, as a barrage of mortars killed four civilians and wounded five others in central Baghdad.

Gunmen also raced through a market, spraying bullets into food and clothing stalls and killing three Sunni Muslim shopkeepers. Another drive-by shooting targeted four guards at the Iraqi Finance Ministry, killing one of them.

According to well-sourced leaks, Mr Maliki has formally agreed to send three more Iraqi brigades to Baghdad to match the American troop increase of five combat brigades. Two-thirds of the new Iraqi force for Baghdad is to consist of battle-hardened Kurdish peshmerga units from northern Iraq.

Mr Bush is facing deep scepticism about whether the new plan has any chance of success however. Great store is being put in to an expected doubling of the State Department's reconstruction efforts in Iraq and the new strategy will see the administration emphasise reconstruction as much as fighting.

The Democrats find themselves with the power to stop Mr Bush's plan in its tracks by refusing to fund it.

Mr Bush's forthcoming speech is expected to focus on Iraqi efforts to defeat the insurgents and the Shia militias which are behind much of the sectarian killing.

Much trumpeted reconstruction efforts in Iraq have become mired in corruption or have failed to materialise in the face of the growing insurgency. There is no evidence that a rebuilding programme will shift the Iraqi population's deeply hostile attitude to the US military.