Bush launches high-level overhaul of Iraq team

By Steve Holland
Reuters
Friday, January 5, 2007; 11:29 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush launched a high-level overhaul on Friday of his Iraq team before outlining a shift in course in the unpopular war next week, nominating a new deputy secretary of state and intelligence director.

In a White House ceremony, Bush announced retired Navy Admiral Mike McConnell will replace John Negroponte as national intelligence director so that Negroponte, whose four-decade diplomatic career has included ambassadorial assignments to Iraq and the United Nations, can take over the No. 2 position at the State Department.

They are the first names announced in a deep shuffle of Bush's diplomatic and military team as he prepares to detail a long-awaited change in course in Iraq sometime next week, possibly on Wednesday.

Facing a Democratic-controlled Congress deeply concerned about his handling of the war, Bush is contemplating what could be a short-term increase of up to 20,000 U.S. troops to try to restore stability to Baghdad, but is facing opposition from some lawmakers and military officials.

The nominations of both Negroponte and McConnell require U.S. Senate confirmation, which seemed likely although some senators grumbled that Negroponte's departure after less than two years on the job would set back efforts to reform U.S. spy agencies after the September 11 attacks.

"Each of them will do good work in their new positions. And it is vital they take up their new responsibilities promptly," Bush said.

More personnel changes were to be announced on Friday.

The Pentagon was set to announce that Bush will nominate Adm. William Fallon to replace Gen. John Abizaid as the head of U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a U.S. official said.

And Lt. Gen. David Petraeus will become the top ground commander in Iraq, replacing Gen. George Casey, the official said.

The military changes reflect a major shift in the leadership of those handling the Iraq war. Casey, who will be leaving his post a few months earlier than previously envisioned, has been wary of sending more troops into Iraq.

Petraeus has been instrumental in leading efforts to train Iraqi troops.

Fallon's choice raised some eyebrows in Washington because it would put a Navy official in charge of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


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