"On The Fly" Iraq Offensive Surprised U.S.

Iraqi children inspect a government forces vehicle destroyed in fighting with the Mahdi Army in Basra, Iraq, Friday, March 28, 2008. Shiite militants clashed with government forces for a fourth day in Iraq's oil-rich south and sporadic fighting broke out in Baghdad, despite a weekend curfew in the capital.
AP Photo/Nabil Al-Jurani
The U.S. military is sending advisers down to Basra to help the Iraqi army coordinate an operation which American officers say was "put together on the fly" and has degenerated into a stalemate.

These officers complain Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki acted "impulsively" in ordering an offensive his army was not prepared to conduct, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

The Iraqis didn't ask permission, they just went, which seems to have caught President Bush by surprise.

"You know, I'm not exactly sure what triggered the prime minister's response, but nevertheless he made the decision to move and we'll help him," Mr. Bush said.

But helping the Iraqis win in Basra could throw a monkey wrench into plans for withdrawing American troops.

U.S. officials say American combat troops would be sent into Basra only as a last resort but they expect more Iraqi troops will have to be committed to the battle. If they are, American troops would have to cover the areas left unprotected.

That would force Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, to choose between covering more territory with fewer troops or suspending the withdrawals that are bringing combat units home at the rate of about 3,500 soldiers a month.

No decisions have been made, but one U.S. official said many of the successes of the past 12 months are in danger of being cancelled out.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.