Sun, Dec 24, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Bush calls on US to continue showing support for troops

AP AND AFP , LOS ANGELES AND WASHINGTON, BAGHDAD AND SAMAWA, IRAQ

US President George W. Bush yesterday told troops who are spending Christmas far from their families that "the coming year will bring change" -- but no reduction in support for their service and sacrifice.

"If you're serving on the front lines halfway across the world, it is natural to wonder what all this means for you," Bush said in his weekly radio address, taped before he left Washington for the holiday.

"I want our troops to know that while the coming year will bring change, one thing will not change, and that is our nation's support for you and the vital work you do to achieve a victory in Iraq," he said.

Bush called on Americans to spend the holidays remembering troops with prayers, gifts, help for families left behind, visits to hospitals and just simple gratitude.

"Christmas reminds us that we have a duty to others, and we see that sense of duty fulfilled in the men and women who wear our nation's uniform," he said. "I urge every American to find some way to thank our military this Christmas season."

The president is rushing to craft a course correction for the increasingly unpopular Iraq war. New Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who returned on Friday night from a three-day reconnaissance trip to Iraq, joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and others to brief the president yesterday at Camp David.

Top US military commanders in Iraq have decided to recommend a "surge" of fresh US combat forces, eliminating one of the last remaining hurdles to proposals being considered by Bush, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday.

Citing an unnamed defense official, the newspaper said the approval of a troop increase plan by top Iraq commanders, including General George Casey and Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, comes days before Bush unveils a new course for Iraq.

The recommendation by the commanders in Iraq is significant because Bush has placed prime importance on their advice, the report said.

Commanders have been skeptical of the value of increasing troops, and the decision represents a reversal for Casey, the highest ranking officer in Iraq, the paper said.

Casey and General John Abizaid, head of the US Central Command who will step down in March, have long resisted adding more troops in Iraq, arguing that it could delay the development of Iraqi security forces and increase anger at the US in the Arab world.

Meanwhile in Iraq, six people were killed and 15 wounded in clashes between Iraqi police and militiamen loyal to Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr, a policeman said yesterday.

The clashes erupted after the main weekly Muslim prayers in the mainly Shiite southern city of Samawa on Friday and were continuing yesterday, other police sources said.

Also yesterday, Shiites from Iraq's largest bloc in parliament met the country's top Shiite cleric, amid efforts to build a political coalition across sectarian lines and persuade radical anti-US cleric al-Sadr to rejoin politics.

Members of the United Iraqi Alliance gathered at the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf.

Also see story:
Gates ready to brief Bush

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