With attacks on occupation forces steadily increasing, the United States has begun working with Iraq's U.S.-appointed governing council to speed up the transition to Iraqi self-rule. The stepped up strategy to put Iraqis in charge of their own country came just as Japan said it is reconsidering sending troops to Iraq in light of Wednesday's suicide bombing that killed at least 18 Italian paramilitaries and more than a dozen Iraqis near Nasiriyah.
After a hastily convened meeting at the White House, President Bush is sending his top envoy Paul Bremer back to Iraq with ideas for speeding up the political transition there. "Ambassador Bremer, with my instructions is going back to talk to the governing council to develop a strategy," he said.
The current strategy calls for Iraq to submit a plan by mid-December for drafting a new constitution and holding elections, a process that could take years to fully play out. But with the level and sophistication of attacks on coalition troops only increasing, Secretary of State Colin Powell all but said the current plan is not workable.
"The time required to write a constitution, if you are going to go through an election process to determine who should be on that constitutional writing commission, could eat up a great deal of time, more time than we think can be allowed," he said.
Instead, under consideration is the possibility of holding elections for a new Iraqi government first perhaps by June of next year then having Iraq's temporary government draft a constitution afterwards.
"The governing council and Ambassador Bremer are going to talk about how to transfer authority more quickly," said National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
But even if Iraq can return to self rule sooner than initially planned, the top U.S. military commander for the region says that won't necessarily mean an early departure of American troops, whose presence has fueled attacks by Saddam Hussein loyalists.
General John Abizaid says he feels a sense or urgency about the military situation but emphasizes, "We are not in a rush to leave. We will stay as long as we need to, to ensure that Iraq is secure, that a hand over makes sense, and that a moderate Iraqi government emerges."
In Baghdad, explosions were heard after dark Thursday, part of what correspondents there say is a new U.S. military offensive involving the unusual use of attack aircraft to retaliate for almost nightly attacks by Iraqi insurgents.
U.S. Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel George Krivo told reporters Thursday the new policy known as operation "Iron Hammer" may not be a short-term mission. "We expect that these types of targeted, anti-terrorist operations will continue and intensify as long as necessary," he said.
Meanwhile, Japan, a nation that the United States was counting on to send non-combat troops to Iraq, says the on-going guerrilla attacks, especially Wednesday's suicide bombing that targeted Italian military police in Nasiriyah, has led it to reconsider its offer to send hundreds of troops to the country.