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Bush Plan Meets With Global Skepticism

Iraq's government welcomed President Bush's new strategy and promised it was committed to making sure it succeeds. But ordinary Iraqis gave it mixed reviews, with many expressing skepticism that an increase in U.S. troops would quell the violence ransacking their country.

A Sunni lawmaker also rejected Bush's plan to send more troops, calling instead for a timetable for them to withdraw and for direct negotiations with insurgents.

"Bush's plan could be the last attempt to fix the chaos created after the invasion of Iraq. Yet, sending more troops will not end the problem, on the contrary, there will be more bloodshed," said Sunni lawmaker Hussein al-Falluji.

"The increase of occupation troops in Iraq is unacceptable and rejected. We are looking forward to the departure of these troops from the country," said Falah Shanshil, a Shiite lawmaker.

CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan says "Iraqis have been talking about nothing else all day, and most of the people we've spoken to say they do not want more U.S. troops here. They don't believe this is going to help."

Ali Hussein, a Baghdad resident, said: "Iraqis are coherent people and they are not in need of additional troops. The important thing is the departure of the occupation troops. The country will be okay if the troops leave it."

Mr. Bush's plan was met with strong skepticism across the broader Mideast, where many predicted that even with more soldiers, America would fail to break the cycle of violence.

Many saw the surge in troops as a desperate move that will only increase the United States' failures in Iraq — and could deepen the sectarian divides in the war-fractured country, leading to more bloodshed.

There were deep doubts that U.S. troops, or the Shiite-led Iraqi government, would tackle what many in the Sunni-dominated Arab world see as the chief threat to Iraq: Shiite militias, blamed for fueling the cycle of sectarian slayings.

Mustafa al-Ani, a military analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said the American military has to take down the Shiite militias — particularly the most feared of them, the Mahdi Army, loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Otherwise, the U.S. will lose any suppport among Iraq's Sunnis.

The president's announcement won quick support, however, from U.S. allies in the war as a crucial step toward stabilizing the country and battling terrorism.

The leaders of South Korea, Australia and Japan — all longtime supporters of the U.S.-led mission in Iraq — pledged continued political backing and material help to the beleaguered war effort.

"If America retreats in Iraq, then that has enormous consequences for the stability of the Middle East and it will also be an enormous boost to terrorism in our part of the world," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in Sydney.

Howard, whose country has 1,300 troops in and around Iraq, called Bush's plan to boost the U.S. presence by more than 20,000 troops "very clear, calm and above all, realistic."

In Britain — the Bush administration's most important ally in the war — Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett welcomed the president's plan as an indication that the U.S. and Iraqi governments were determined to deal with the deteriorating security situation.

But Beckett, just like Howard in Australia, was quick to assure her own constituency that there were no imminent plans to send additional troops from their own soil to Iraq.

In Pakistan, a coalition of hardline anti-U.S. religious groups on Thursday rejected the troop boost, demanding instead that Washington withdraw its forces from Iraq.

"Occupation of any country will not succeed whether it is in Iraq or Afghanistan," said Shahid Shamsi, a spokesman for the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Forum, an alliance of six Islamic groups that has a strong opposition voice in parliament.

The alliance opposes President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's close cooperation with the United States in the war against terrorism.

In Iran, newspaper headlines were overwhelmingly critical of the plan to infuse Baghdad with thousands more U.S. forces, sentiment echoed by most residents.

"Sending more troops will increase the cost for America. By using the present number of troops and by clarifying its policies there, America can bring about security in Iraq. It should not turn to military methods. That is the only choice," said Tehran resident Mahmoud Entezami.

Bush talked to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun by telephone before his announcement, officials said. Both countries host large numbers of American troops and have contributed forces to Iraq.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo would continue its humanitarian air support and loans to Baghdad for reconstruction.

"I strongly hope that the U.S. efforts toward the stability in Iraq and reconstruction will proceed effectively and bring good results," Aso said in a statement. "Japan will continue to closely communicate and cooperate with the U.S."

Japan withdrew its 600 non-combat ground troops from southern Iraq last year, but has continued air support and Abe has made firm support for Bush a cornerstone of his foreign policy since taking office in September.

Roh, the South Korean president, also expressed support for the new policy, his office said.

The South Korean president "said he understood the background of the comprehensive U.S. policies and expressed support for President Bush's endeavor to bring about stability and reconstruction in Iraq," his office said.

South Korea has 2,300 troops in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to support the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq. Seoul's current contribution of forces makes it Washington's biggest coalition partner after Britain.

Seoul plans to withdraw 1,100 troops by April, and parliament has instructed the administration to devise a full pullout plan during 2007.

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