Rumsfeld: Iraq tactics not working

Updated: 2006-12-03 08:17

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gestures during a media briefing at the Pentagon in this October 26, 2006 file photo. [AP]

WASHINGTON - US President Bush said Saturday he understands that Americans are upset about continuing bloodshed in Iraq even as it was disclosed that Donald H. Rumsfeld called for major changes in tactics two days before he resigned as defense secretary.

"In my view it is time for a major adjustment," Rumsfeld wrote in a Nov. 6 memo to the White House. "Clearly, what US forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough."

Existence of the classified memo was first reported by The New York Times on its Internet site Saturday evening in a story for the paper's Sunday editions.

Pentagon press secretary Eric Ruff said he was not the source of the leak to the Times, but confirmed the memo's authenticity to The Associated Press late Saturday.

"The formulation of these ideas evolved over a period of several weeks," Ruff said in a telephone interview.

He said the options presented in the paper were Rumsfeld's personal ideas developed in conversations with a variety of people, not part of a formal Pentagon review that also is under way.

Ruff also emphasized that Rumsfeld does not endorse any one particular recommendation, and notes in his memo that "many of these options could and, in a number of cases, should be done in combination with others."

The president acknowledged the difficulties in Iraq in his Saturday radio address and said: "I want to hear all advice before I make any decisions about adjustments to our strategy in Iraq.

"I recognize that the recent violence in Iraq has been unsettling. Many people in our country are wondering about the way forward The work ahead will not be easy, yet by helping Prime Minister Maliki strengthen Iraq's democratic institutions and promote national reconciliation, our military leaders and diplomats can help put Iraq on a solid path to liberty and democracy."

Bush added: "The decisions we make in Iraq will be felt across the broader Middle East."

The president is under pressure to decide a new blueprint for US involvement in Iraq. A bipartisan commission headed by James A. Baker III, a former Republican secretary of state and Bush family friend from Texas, and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana are to present its recommendations to Bush in the coming week.

There is no hint in the memo Rumsfeld sent to the White House a day before the Nov. 7 elections that he intended to resign and the Times said it was unclear whether he knew he was about to be replaced when it submitted it.

Bush announced Rumsfeld's impending departure the day after Democrats won control of the House and Senate. The president has designated Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld.

Before listing options for change -- many of which are similar to various proposals by people in and out of government, including Democratic critics in Congress -- Rumsfeld noted that the situation in Iraq "has been evolving" and said US forces have adjusted from "major combat operations, to counterterrorism, to counterinsurgency, to dealing with death squads and sectarian violence."

Rumsfeld said the administration should "announce that whatever new approach the US decides on, the US is doing so on a trial basis. This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not `lose.'"

At the end of his list of "above the line" preferred options, he recommended: "Recast the US military mission and the US goals (how we talk about them) -- go minimalist."

Specifics on his options checklist:

* "Publicly announce a set of benchmarks agreed to by the Iraqi government and the US ... to chart a path ahead for the Iraqi government and Iraqi people (to get them moving) and for the US public (to reassure them that progress can and is being made)."

* "Significantly increase US trainers and embeds, and transfer more US equipment to Iraqi security forces."

* "Initiate a reverse embeds program ... by putting one or more Iraqi solders with every US and possibly coalition squad."

* Aggressively beef up Iraqi ministries by reaching out to US military retires and Reserve and National Guard volunteers.

* Conduct an accelerated drawdown of US bases, noting they have already been reduced from 110 to 55. "Plan to get down to 10 to 15 basis by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007.

* "Retain high-end ... capability ... to target al-Qaida, death squads, and Iranians in Iraq, while drawing down all other coalition forces, except those necessary to provide certain key enablers" for Iraqi forces.

* Provide US security forces "only for those provinces or cities that openly request US help and that actively cooperate."

* Stop rewarding "bad behavior" with reconstruction funds and start rewarding "good behavior."

* "Position substantial US forces near the Iranian and Syrian borders to reduce infiltration and, importantly, reduce Iranian influence on the Iraqi government."

* Withdraw US forces from vulnerable positions and move to a quick reaction force status, operating from within Iraq and Kuwait, to be available when Iraqi security forces need assistance.

* "Begin modest withdrawals of US and coalition forces (start `taking our hand off the cycle seat') so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Rumsfeld also listed a handful of "below the line" (less attractive) options that included continuing on the current path, moving a large fraction of all US forces in Iraq into Baghdad, increasing US forces substantially, setting a firm withdrawal date and pushing "an aggressive federalism plan" that would lead to three separate states -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd.

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