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U.S. Iraq Strategy Under Review

(AFP) November 11, 2006 -- The top U.S. general says the U.S. military is reevaluating its strategy in Iraq.

In a series of interviews on U.S. television, Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not give many details.

But "The New York Times," citing senior Pentagon officials, today reported that Pace had assembled a team of some of the U.S. military's brightest officers and charged them with taking a fresh look at Iraq, Afghanistan, and other crises.

Change In Congress

The report is just the latest indication the Bush administration appears set to make key changes in Iraq, after the opposition Democratic Party won control of both houses of Congress in mid-term elections earlier this week.

Welcoming Democratic congressional leaders at the White House on November 10, Bush reiterated that he is ready to work with the opposition party.

"There is a great opportunity for us to show the country that Republicans and Democrats are equally patriotic and equally concerned about the future and that we can work together," Bush said.

The stunning election defeat has already prompted the resignation of Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, a key architect of the Iraq war.

And in his weekly radio address to be aired today, Bush called Rumsfeld’s chosen replacement, former CIA director Robert Gates, "an agent of change" who would bring fresh ideas to the Iraq conflict. Gates is widely seen as a pragmatist on foreign policy.

New Consensus

The Bush administration will now have to work with a Democratic-led Congress. But leading Democrats, such as the incoming Senate majority leader Harry Reid, say they are ready to cooperate. Reid spoke after meeting with Bush on November 10.

"This has been an excellent discussion. We talked about issues that are important to our country. The election is over. The only way to move forward is with bipartisanship and openness and to get some results," Reid said.

In another sign of changes ahead, Bush reiterated in his radio address that he will welcome recommendations due to be released next month by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker.

The commission is likely to make pragmatic recommendations on how the United States can gradually draw down its presence in Iraq. Bush is due to meet with members of the group on November 13.

Study Group

In its report today, "The New York Times" said the U.S. military began its review of its Iraq policy in late September, but that the team has not yet met with members of the Iraq Study Group.

Among ideas being discussed by military leaders, the Times reported, were increasing the size of the Iraqi security forces, along with U.S. efforts to train and equip them, and adjusting the size of the American force in Iraq.

Pentagon officials also stressed that the review extended well beyond Iraq, and that some non-traditional ideas on how to fight terrorism were being weighed.

Meanwhile, the purported chief of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, has issued an audio statement on the Internet in which he taunts the United States, urging American to stay in Iraq and saying that he has thousands of fighters ready to spill more American blood.

"I tell the lame duck, don't rush to escape as your lame and midget defense secretary did, for we haven't yet had enough of your blood. Stand fast in the battlefield you coward, for we know the Romans [Westerners] are not ashamed of defeat," al-Muhajir said.

The Pentagon review is due to issue its final recommendations on Iraq in early December, around the same time as the Iraq Study Group's.

The new Democratic-led Congress takes office in January.

Sectarian Iraq

Sectarian Iraq

Click to enlarge the image.

SUNNI, SHI'A: Iraq is riven along sectarian lines, faults that frequently produce violent clashes and are a constant source of tension. Sectarian concerns drive much of Iraqi politics and are the main threat to the country's fragile security environment.

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.