Sun, Oct 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

White house says Iraq meeting not result of violence

AFP , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush was to huddle with top US generals yesterday to discuss the US strategy in Iraq amid a bloody surge in violence there and one of the deadliest months for US troops.

The meeting also comes in the midst of growing calls for Bush to change his strategy in Iraq and less than three weeks before legislative elections in which opposition Democrats hope to gain control of Congress.

White House spokesman Tony Snow insisted that the meeting had been "on the schedule for weeks" and was not in response to the rising violence and US death toll.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the meeting was "nothing unusual."

Bush already met with General John Abizaid, his top commander in the Middle East, at the White House on Friday.

He was scheduled to hold a broader meeting yesterday with Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, General George Casey -- the US commander in Iraq who was to join in via a video hook-up from Baghdad -- and Abizaid, officials said.

The meeting comes as Iraqi police battled Shiite militia for control of a city that had recently been turned over to Iraqi security forces.

A top US general also acknowledged this week that a campaign to secure Baghdad had failed to dampen sectarian violence there.

Opposition Democrats called on Bush to revise his strategy and convene an international conference to support a political settlement in Iraq.

"We urge you to change course, level with the American people, and join with us to develop a policy that will work, before the situation in Iraq is irretrievable," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in an open letter to Bush.

Calls among Republican lawmakers for a change of course in Iraq also have mounted ahead of the midterm elections on Nov. 7.

Earlier last week, Bush agreed that a comparison of the situation to the 1968 Tet Offensive, which crystallized domestic opposition to the Vietnam War, "could be right."

Rumsfeld acknowledged at a press conference that the violence in Iraq is "higher than it has been."

But he would not say whether the administration and top US commanders were considering a change in strategy or merely refining tactics to deal with the worsening situation.

He said yesterday's meeting with the president "was a regular session where we -- I think this is the third or fourth of them -- where we are updated and review the circumstance and discuss the way forward."

Snow said, "The president understands the difficulty in a time of war, and he also understands that what you do is you adjust tactically."

But the latest fighting in the southern city of Amara struck directly at the US strategy of progressively turning over relatively secure areas to Iraqi security forces, thereby allowing the withdrawal of US and coalition forces.

British troops had turned over security for the city to Iraqi forces in August. When they pulled out, their base on the city's outskirts was looted.

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