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Officials expected to push for faster self-rule in Iraq

WASHINGTON—Amid increasing attacks on U.S.-led forces, the top U.S. civilian and military officials in charge of Iraq are coming to Washington for deliberations on improving security and pushing the country down the path to self-rule more rapidly, officials said Friday.

L. Paul Bremer, the head of the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority, and Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of the U.S. Central Command, are to meet in the next few days with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior officials, they said.

Abizaid has been pushing to transfer more security responsibilities to Iraqi forces as quickly as possible, while Bremer has been criticized for being too slow to turn over any responsibilities to Iraqis.

The consultations come amid an escalation in the frequency of attacks on U.S.-led occupation forces—up to 25 or 26 per day on average from around 20 in previous weeks—that are adding to the toll of U.S. dead and wounded.

At least 108 U.S. soldiers, including two on Friday, have been killed since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq on May 1.

Iraqis also appear to be growing more disenchanted. A new poll this week indicated that the goodwill produced by Saddam Hussein's ouster has been lost, with only 14.8 percent of Iraqis viewing U.S.-led forces as liberators, compared with nearly 43 percent of Iraqis six months ago.

The Bush administration insists the situation is far better than portrayed by the news media and opposition Democrats, with most of Iraq calm and large numbers of Iraqis cooperating in the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts.

But two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bremer and Abizaid are deeply concerned that the situation is worsening and believe that some policy changes are required to halt the deterioration.

Bremer "would not call it an overhaul. He would call it a course correction," said one official.

A senior administration official said some senior civilian Pentagon officials—major advocates for the invasion of Iraq—now believe the United States should accelerate the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and pull forces out as quickly as possible.

"There are some civilians at the Pentagon who've decided that we should turn this over to someone else and get out as fast as possible," he said.

But Lawrence DiRita, a spokesman for Rumsfeld, said neither Bremer nor Abizaid had concluded that the situation in Iraq has become appreciably more difficult.

A U.S. Army expert on Iraq, who asked not to be identified further, concurred, saying, "There may have been some increase in pessimism in the last month or two."

DiRita said the visit by Abizaid and Bremer had been set for some time and was part of regular consultations they hold with Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials.

The discussions will take stock of Iraqi policy in light of several recent major developments, he said. They include the approval of a U.N. resolution giving the U.S.-appointed Governing Council until Dec. 15 to develop a timetable for the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of elections.

It also authorized an international peacekeeping force for Iraq and gave the United Nations a stronger role in the country's reconstruction and transition to self-rule.

Moreover, Congress is expected to approve next week an $87 billion bill that will dispense $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction and $51 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Rumsfeld, Abizaid and Bremer will review how the U.N. resolution and the new funds would impact the "timelines" for returning the country to self-rule and turning over more security responsibility to Iraqi police, border units and other organizations being formed and trained by the U.S.-led coalition, said DiRita.

Another development that likely will figure in the discussions that Bremer is to hold in Washington will be the results of a two-day international conference on Iraq's reconstruction that ended in Madrid on Friday.

The session, which Bremer attended, raised $33 billion in pledges and donations, including the $20 billion, but the amount fell short of the estimated $56 billion required for rebuilding the country.

The United States also has been having trouble winning large new contributions of international peacekeeping troops, especially from Muslim countries, although senior officials said Pakistan and Bangladesh are willing to contribute if asked by the Iraqi Governing Council.

Japan, South Korea and Singapore also are willing to send troops, the officials said.

The United States on Friday sought a break in talks with Turkey on its offer to dispatch a contingent of peacekeepers.

The senior administration official said the break came after members of the Governing Council renewed their opposition to the presence of troops from Iraq's former colonial ruler.

The Turks also told U.S. officials that they want U.S. forces to go after Kurdish separatist guerrillas from Turkey who have bases in the remote mountains of northern Iraq, said the senior U.S. official.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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