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Bush Considers Iraq Options


A new era is beginning at the Pentagon. President Bush will be present Monday for ceremonies marking the start of Robert Gates' tenure as secretary of defense. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports Gates comes in to office at a crucial time as the president considers a revised strategy for Iraq.

The president is getting a great deal of advice, most of it in private meetings and briefings.

But there are also prominent figures taking to the airwaves in the United States with their suggestions for change.

On Sunday, they dominated the news interview programs aired on all the major American television networks.

On ABC's This Week, the incoming majority leader in the U.S. Senate - Democrat Harry Reid - was asked about various military options in Iraq. He said he could support an influx of troops to help secure Baghdad, but only for a short period of time.

"If it is for a surge, that is, for two or three months and it is part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year, then sure I will go along with it," said Harry Reid.

A short-term increase in troop levels has been suggested by Republican Senator John McCain and others as a way to give the political process in Iraq a chance to work. It is not one of the options put forward by the Iraq Study Group - a bipartisan panel of experts that recently submitted its recommendations to President Bush.

The surge proposal has received a mixed response from officials in Baghdad, as have the Iraq Study Group's proposals. During an interview aired on CNN's Late Edition, Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, backed the idea of a troop increase. He said Iraqi forces are not capable of securing the capital city.

"And you can see clearly in fact the increasing influence of the militia in Baghdad which makes things rather very, very difficult to the innocent people," said Tareq al-Hashimi. "So what I need, yes, definitely, in fact, I need more troops, in fact, to be in Baghdad."

Hashimi recently met with President Bush at the White House - one of a series of meetings the president has been holding with Iraqi leaders, U.S. military commanders in the field, American diplomats and Pentagon officials. He has also consulted with several retired generals, including Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff.

Keane told ABC's This Week that he supports sending an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Iraq, but stressed a temporary surge of two to three months will not work.

"Baghdad would probably take - to complete the mission militarily and secure the people - it would take well into the fall of the year [2007]," said Jack Keane.

Appearing on the Fox News Sunday program, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy predicted the Senate Armed Services committee will oppose any troop increase.

"We have to understand that there is absolute chaos that is taking place there," said Ted Kennedy. "This country is falling apart - the bottom is falling out of this thing."

President Bush is expected to unveil his revised Iraq policy in a speech to the nation sometime in January.

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