Bush and Gates grapple with Iraq

The discussion comes amid calls for an increase in US troop strength in Iraq.

    George Bush is expected to unveil a fresh plan for Iraq early next year [AP]

    The newspaper cited a defence official who was familiar with the plan and said that top US commanders like General George Casey and Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno supported it.

    However, a military spokesman in Baghdad said: "Casey, the highest-ranking US officer in Iraq, has not asked for more troops. Casey's position remains that he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of a troop surge," said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver.


    Blain Rethmeier, White House spokesman, said he could neither confirm nor deny the Los Angeles Times report. He said, Bush was "leaving all options on the table" regarding his new plan for Iraq.


    Election defeat


    Casey, as well as General John Abizaid, the top US Middle East commander, due to retire in early 2007, had publicly expressed skepticism about boosting US combat troop levels in Iraq.


    They had said it would only heighten opposition to the American presence and reduce pressure on Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for security.


    Others in the government argued that a temporary boost in US troop strength would help stem the violence coming both from fighters and from sectarian conflict.


    Most Democrats - who are set to take over control of Congress in January - are pushing for the start of a "drawdown in US forces", which currently number around 135,000.


    Public discontent with the Iraq war led to crushing losses for Bush's Republican party in the November congressional elections.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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