New Secretary of State Robert Gates has met with US commanders in Iraq and found them cautious of a proposal to infuse Iraq with more troops. The commanders don’t want a boost in troop levels without a clear mandate for those troops. The commanders clearly understand that another 20 000 troops will not rectify the situation without a clear strategy.

President Bush has echoed the sentiment, saying he is open to a troops increase with a clear mission.

It’s yet another confirmation that the US is looking to exit from Iraq in the next 10-14 months. The idea of increasing US troops to train Iraqi forces is gaining more and more popularity, with US troops incapable of stabilizing the civil uprisings in the US-supported democracy.

A new strategy in Iraq will be announced by President Bush in January; it remains to be seen whether the US President will go along with suggestions from the Iraq Study Group, which he commissioned. A temporary troops increase can be expected, with the longer-term goal of exiting Iraq. The most salient question is whether the US will deal with Iran or Syria directly.

With the US asking that a resolution on Iran be passed at the UN Security Council before the weekend, Iran may not be approached directly. However, the US may opt to talk to Syria, leaving it to Syria to directly engage with Iran.

Iran may also chose to make its own move, before the US announces its strategy: President Ahmadinejad has already met with his Iraqi counterpart, discussing how Iran could help stabilize the new democracy. With recent municipal elections leaning toward moderates like Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad needs to adjust his policies, if he wishes to serve a second term. One way would be to cooperate with Iraq and remain open to talks with US.

Dmitri Marine blogs on Blogue North

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