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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya)

More than a month has passed since U.S. President George Bush has made
public his new strategy in Iraq. The period is too short to decide whether
this strategy is effective, especially considering that it has not yet been
fully launched. The question is whether there is a strategy for reaching
settlement in Iraq at all.

I agree with the president on two counts without any reservations. First,
there is “no magic formula for success in Iraq,” and, second, if he starts
withdrawing troops from Iraq, the bad situation will become worse, and the
extremists will strengthen their positions in the entire Broader Middle
East. Bush believes that lack of action in Iraq is counterproductive. But
what is productive?

The United States has sent another 21,500 troops to Iraq to change the
balance of forces in its favor. This is a natural step, but too many
experts are dubious that it will work. First, the strength of foreign
troops in Iraq has changed throughout the Iraqi campaign (since 2003), but
the local rhythm has remained the same – a lull in fighting would alternate
with bursts of violence. Second, some American and other experts believe
that to change the situation in its favor, the U.S. should have about
450,000 foreign troops in Iraq rather than 140,000, as was the case when
Bush presented his strategy. But the president does not want to control the
whole of Iraq. His goal is to improve the situation in Baghdad and the
Anbar province. The additional troops will be based there, and this will
probably make a change in the alignment of forces, at least temporarily.
Bush did not suggest merely a numerical increase, but also promised a new

So far American and Iraqi troops have avoided the regions enveloped in
internal strife, but now the Iraqi government has approved of this.
Moreover, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has given carte blanche to
the American and his own security forces to arrest all instigators of
disorder regardless of their party or religious identity. In the past few
days, the Americans have stepped up their operations against paramilitary
Shiites despite their cautious attitude to the government majority.

The U.S. attempt to stand between the conflicting sides in Iraq is
commendable, but may turn out to be counterproductive. Without knowledge of
the local traditions, it is very difficult to decide who is right and who
is wrong. Up to now, ignorance of local mentality and failure to understand
what is going on has been one of the Pentagon’s main omissions in Iraq. The
new strategy may result in more American losses rather than the change in
the situation. This would reduce Bush’s rating and escalate anti-war
attitudes in the United States. The Iraqis themselves doubt with good
reason the neutrality of their own security forces in military or police
uniforms. What if the strife becomes even worse?

Bush has taken precautions. He said if the new strategy worked as planned,
acts of violence would continue all the same, and there would be more
American and Iraqi victims. He does not risk anything since his rating is
making a steep dive. This is a risk, though, for the Republican Party,
which still hopes to get its nominee to the White House although the
chances are very slim. The Americans who are fighting in Iraq are risking
even more.

Unlike Bush, the Iraqi prime minister has put his career and life at stake.
He has taken a courageous step by giving carte blanche for the arrest of
those forces that brought him to power. Nobody can guess for how long he
will keep his position. Nouri al-Maliki has already announced that he does
not hope to occupy his position beyond his term. In other words, he will
not be upset if he is forced to retire. But his departure from power will
only deepen discord in Iraq. It took the Iraqis several months to choose
their prime minister and his cabinet. Any politician in Iraq is on the
horns of the dilemma – should he rely on his community’s support, or
sacrifice it for the sake of national unity. Few politicians are ready for
sacrifice, and all concessions have their limits. Every act of terror is
eroding the very idea of national unity.

The latter went up in smoke with the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The communal interests kept in check on pain of death for decades, crashed
out together with the desire to take revenge for the past humiliation and
suffering. The Shiites and Kurds were the first to protest. The threat of
Iraq’s disintegration into at least three parts is still there. Today it is
hard to imagine what can keep the Iraqis together, except for the fear of
even more violence and outside intervention. Even if the U.S. makes the
situation relatively safer in the near future, there will be numerous
political battles, any of which may develop into a massacre.

It is not easy to rebuild a political process after almost four years of
violence and anything-goes attitudes. It is difficult to put clan
preferences second to professionalism. Nor is it simple for the Iraqis to
assume responsibility for their future. It is easier to blame occupation
and foreign presence. But they will have to start making decisions without
looking back to Washington or Tehran, and the outside forces should learn
to give them the right to do so.

No doubt, there is a threat that without foreign control the Iraqis will
not unite, and Iraq’s disintegration may become inevitable. Nobody suggests
leaving them in the lurch, but they should realize that they are the only
masters of their future.

Almost simultaneously with Bush, a number of prominent politicians from
different countries expressed their views on Iraq. Saudi King Abdullah bin
Abdul Aziz is convinced that stability in Iraq could and should be achieved
with “comprehensive efforts in three directions, none of which should
prevail over the others.” First, it is necessary to remove all sources of
violence and disband armed units, regardless of which side they belong to.
Second, the Iraqi people should achieve national unity along the lines of
universal equality and parity in rights and duties, and joint use of
national resources. Third, Iraq should retain its independence,
sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that no plans will work in Iraq
unless there is a date for a troop withdrawal. “People in Iraq should know
that at a certain time they must be ready to take charge of their country.
As long as there is no deadline and it is not clear when their government
becomes mature enough to rule the nation, they shift all responsibility to
the foreign troops. I think the time schedule for a foreign troop
withdrawal must be fixed,” he said.

For all the responsibility for the situation, the U.S. cannot stay in Iraq
forever. When should the troops leave Iraq? Presenting his strategy, Bush
said the Iraqis will be in a position to assume responsibility for their
country by November 2007, and this is when the U.S. could start withdrawing
its troops.

The Saudi and Russian leaders, among others, could accept this approach.
But all dates are subject to change. Moreover, ensuring security is not the
number one task.

It is difficult, albeit possible to stop violence in Iraq. It is even
possible to persuade the public that America has won, impossible as it
sounds. But what will bring the situation in Iraq back to normal? There are
many correct suggestions, but they are divorced from reality.

The Iraqi situation is extremely complicated, and a whole package of
military, political and economic measures should be carried out to reach
stabilization. A great deal depends on the Iraqi government, which bears
responsibility for what is happening in the country, and on actions of
neighboring Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But too many factors are
at work (inside Iraq and the rest of the region, in the U.S. and the Muslim
world), which makes it very hard to predict anything. Every recipe will
have too many reservations. George Bush has got it in one when he said
there is “no magic formula for success in Iraq.”

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not
necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.–0-