He spoke after top White House figures, frustrated by growing instability in Iraq and the council's performance, held a hastily convened meeting to discuss the situation in Iraq.

Paul Bremer, Iraq's US occupation governer, returned abruptly to Washington on Tuesday for the meeting and was still at the White House late in the day.

"When decisions need to be made, Bremer comes. Some decisions need to be made," one US official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no expectation Bremer would be leaving his post.

Bremer friction 

Bremer's return comes amid growing White House frustration with the Iraqi Governing Council, and what some officials say is increasing friction with Bremer himself.

With a recent surge in attacks on US-led forces, Iraqis cooperating with them and international groups, Washington is seeking ways to reduce the US presence and transfer power to compliant Iraqis. 

Bremer is said to be reluctant to
transfer powers to Iraqis swiftly 

"It's a serious discussion," said a senior US official. "You have the December 15 (UN Security Council) deadline for the governing council to set out a timetable for drafting a constitution and holding elections.

"The discussions are with that in mind, looking at the performance of the governing council," he said.

Bremer left Baghdad for Washington on short notice and canceled a meeting on Tuesday with visiting Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller.

US-appointed council

A senior administration official declined to provide details of any decisions that had been taken. Bremer is "working with the governing council," was all he would say.

Also attending the meeting were Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

There have been media reports that the United States might abandon the council and establish a new structure to take over before elections are held.

But one US official said: "Abandoning the Iraqi Governing Council is unlikely."

He acknowledged problems with the council, including a rotating presidency, and said one change might be to provide more continuity in the leadership structure.

Iraq has become a quagmire for
US soldiers

Democratic model

"The focus here is on getting the Iraqis to take over more and more steadily according to the plan in UN Security Council resolution 1511," he said.

"You don't do that by a radical change in course... That's not to say there shouldn't be mid-course corrections."

President George Bush, speaking earlier to the Heritage Foundation think tank, stressed the US goal of establishing a democratic government in Iraq as a model for the Middle East.

"Under our strategy, increasing authority is being transferred to the Iraqi people," he said.

US officials have also been debating whether to reconstitute some units of the old Iraqi army to speed the buildup of indigenous security forces.

Talking shop

And officials said there was growing friction between Bremer and Washington over Bremer's resistance to accelerating the transfer of authority to Iraqis.

The United States says the Iraqi Governing Council is the most broad-based government the country has ever known. 

However, the council's has been derided by its many detractors as a US-appointed talking shop with no real power to make decisions.

They say it exists primarily to serve the US’s objectives, and its members have been handpicked by the Americans rather than elected by Iraqis.