Thu, Dec 14, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Bush to hold off on Iraqi policy until next month

CHANGE IN DIRECTION?The White House said the US president still had questions about strategy and was not ready yet to make his decisions public

AP , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush knows the general direction he wants to move US policy on Iraq but will not announce it until next month, the White House said. Military commanders were recommending more US advisers and equipment for Iraqi forces, said a defense specialist on Tuesday.

Bush, under intense pressure to overhaul his Iraq policy, gave no hints of a change in direction after a meeting with Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, one of several Iraqi power brokers he has recently hosted in the Oval Office. He said, however, that the US is holding fast to its objectives and commitments.

"Our objective is to help the Iraqi government deal with the extremists and the killers and support the vast majority of Iraqis who are reasonable, who want peace," Bush said.

"We want to help your government be effective," he said. "We want your government to live up to its words and ideals."

While planning to recommend more advisers, commanders who met with Bush on Tuesday were not suggesting more US combat troops in Iraq, the defense specialist said. He said they were urging the administration to pour significantly more funding into equipment for the Iraqi Security Forces. The specialist spoke on condition of anonymity because Bush's discussions with his commanders were private.

He said General John Abizaid, top US commander in the Middle East, and General George Casey, the top general in Iraq, want more armored vehicles, body armor and other critical equipment for the Iraqis.

The message to Bush, the expert said, is that the US cannot withdraw a substantial number of combat troops by early 2008, as suggested in the recent Iraq Study Group report, because the Iraqis will not be ready to assume control of their country. One reason Bush will not make public his new Iraq policy plan until next year is that officials need time to work out the funding details, he said.

The discussions on Tuesday echo comments Abizaid made to the Senate Armed Services Committee that troop levels in Iraq need to stay fairly stable and the use of military advisers must be expanded.

There are about 140,000 US troops in Iraq and about 5,000 advisers. Combat troops make up less than half of US forces in Iraq.

Iraq has proposed that its troops assume primary responsibility for security in Baghdad early next year and that US troops be shifted to the capital's periphery, the New York Times reported on its Web site on Tuesday night.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the president had expected to make a speech before Christmas to announce his new strategy for Iraq but still had questions and was not yet ready to make all the decisions he needed to make.

"The president generally knows what direction he wants to move in, but there are very practical things that need to be dealt with," Snow said. "This is not a sign of trouble. This is a sign of determination on the part of the president."

Democrats did not see it that way.

"It has been six weeks since the American people demanded change in Iraq," said Senator Harry Reid, who will become Senate majority leader. "In that time, Iraq has descended further toward all-out civil war and all the president has done is fire [Secretary of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld and conduct a listening tour."

Most Americans who are familiar with the Iraq Study Group report support major recommendations by the bipartisan panel, according to a Pew Research Center poll, out on Tuesday. But they also doubt Bush will follow the group's advice.

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