WASHINGTON, June 10 — President Bush's two-day strategy session starting Monday at Camp David is intended to revive highly tangible efforts to shore up Iraq's new government, from getting the electricity back on in Baghdad to purging the security forces of revenge-seeking militias, White House officials said.
Three years of efforts to accomplish those goals have largely failed. Billions of dollars have been spent on both electricity and security, yet residents of Baghdad get only five to eight hours of power a day, and the American ambassador acknowledged on Friday that the city is "more insecure now than it was a few months ago."
One of the senior officials involved in the strategy session characterized it as a "last, best chance to get this right," an implicit acknowledgment that previous American-led efforts had gone astray.
He said the decision to hold a joint cabinet meeting on Tuesday, between Mr. Bush's top advisers and the newly appointed cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq via a video link from Baghdad, was intended to set an agenda for the new government that could begin to win the loyalty of disaffected Iraqis. It is also an effort to hand off leadership to Mr. Maliki's government and, in an analogy used by several American officials, to begin to let go of the bicycle seat and find out if the Iraqi government can stay upright with less American support.
For Mr. Bush, the session comes at a critical moment in Baghdad and in Washington. His efforts to prop up two interim prime ministers with similar pledges of support largely failed. At home, he is trying to create a sense of political progress at a time when some Democrats — and some in his own party — are calling for significant numbers of American troops to come home by the end of this year, a debate that will be taking place in Congress this week during arguments over spending bills for the war.
No matter how that debate turns out, Congress has made clear that its willingness to pay for more Iraqi reconstruction is just about exhausted. Both American and Iraqi officials now acknowledge that they will have to seek billions in investment and aid from Persian Gulf nations that have been unwilling to contribute many dollars or any soldiers.
Mr. Bush on Friday made clear that the American commitment to the country will be long-term. Officials say the administration has begun to look at the costs of maintaining a force of roughly 50,000 troops there for years to come, roughly the size of the American presence maintained in the Philippines and Korea for decades after those conflicts.
But no decisions have been made, and Mr. Bush has carefully sidestepped any discussion of a long-term presence, insisting that American forces will be in the country only as long as the Iraqi government wants them there. Mr. Bush's aides said the meeting was not intended to focus on troop levels. But in many ways, that subject is the subtext of the entire discussion.
Providing electricity means securing pipelines and generators that have been prime targets of the insurgency. Enforcing a breakup of the militias that have infiltrated security forces could require a significant show of force, particularly if elements of the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization, the two strongest Shiite militias, resist.
Dealing with electric power and security, of course, were among the problems that the administration insisted, in briefings in the spring of 2003, it was prepared to tackle as soon as Saddam Hussein was deposed.
"None of these problems — or even the solutions that are being proposed — are new," said one former senior official who worked extensively on reconstruction, but did not want his name published because he still deals with the administration regularly. "What's been lacking is the political will."
Administration officials say they are not trying to reinvent the reconstruction, but rather relaunch it. "Everybody views the completion of a truly unity government as a moment of opportunity," Dan Bartlett, Mr. Bush's senior counselor, said Friday in his office at the White House. "That is exactly why this meeting is taking place now."
The session was planned, he said, before the killing on Wednesday of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Qaeda leader in Iraq, but Mr. Bush has made clear he thinks Mr. Zarqawi's elimination could help turn the tide.
Mr. Maliki has said that solving the electricity problem, particularly in Baghdad, and ridding the security forces of infiltrators who have killed Sunnis and other rivals, are his top priorities. But American officials acknowledge that to pay for some of Mr. Maliki's agenda, it will be necessary to raise money among Iraq's neighbors in the gulf — an effort that has yielded minimal results so far.
As the prime minister's own tour of new electric facilities in Iraq this week made clear, the challenges are enormous. Already, the United States has allocated $4 billion to electricity projects around the country, and at least $2 billion of that has been spent. Yet the amount of power flowing through Baghdad's aging electric grid has not changed much.
The pipelines that feed oil to generating plants have been systematically attacked by insurgents who aim to shut down the grid and black marketeers seeking to steal the fuel and sell it for profit.
The most recent official figures say that Baghdad is receiving at least eight hours of electricity a day, but Iraqis say that after a fleeting improvement earlier this month, they now receive less than that.
When Mr. Maliki visited the Baghdad South power plant earlier this month with his electricity minister, Karim Wahid, they acknowledged that three years after the invasion, billions more will have to be spent.
Mr. Wahid estimated that power output in the Baghdad area must more than double just to meet current demand, which was growing at between 7 percent and 10 percent a year.
The cost to satisfy those needs, he said, could run to as much as $2 billion a year for 10 years, requiring substantial foreign investment. "I will ask the government to correct the budget, and if it's possible to add something else," Mr. Wahid said.