Bush to huddle with top advisers on Iraq strategy

By Tabassum Zakaria
Thursday, December 28, 2006; 1:20 AM

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President George W. Bush huddles with top advisers at his Texas ranch on Thursday to hash out options for a new Iraq strategy that he wants to unveil next month to an American public weary of the war.

Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and national security adviser Stephen Hadley will attend the session.

Bush will then make a statement to reporters at about 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT), the White House said.

Among the options Bush has been considering is a short-term troop "surge" aimed at containing rampant violence.

Democrats say results of November elections in which they took control of Congress from Bush's Republican Party reflected public discontent with the Iraq war and desire for change.

Sen. Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat who will be the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has expressed opposition to a troop increase.

"I hope that Senator Biden would wait to hear what the president has to say before announcing what he's opposed to," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

"President Bush will talk soon to our troops, to the American people and to the Iraqi people about the new way forward in Iraq that will lead to a democratic and unified country that can sustain, govern, and defend itself," he said.

As Bush considers a shift in strategy to contain the violence in Iraq, where scores of civilians die daily, supporters of Saddam Hussein threatened to retaliate if the ousted Iraqi leader is executed.

An Iraqi appeals court this week upheld Saddam's death sentence for crimes against humanity and said it should be carried out within 30 days.

Gates met with Bush last weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat after visiting Iraq to get a first-hand assessment as the new defense secretary. He took over from Donald Rumsfeld, one of the main architects of the Iraq war.

Bush last week said he was reviewing all options, including a short-term surge in troops. "We're looking at all options, and one of those options of course is increasing more troops, but in order to do so there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops," Bush said.

Stanzel did not give a date for when Bush will unveil his new strategy, but said it was expected in January.

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