WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has developed a formal written strategy for Iraq that envisions using a mix of diplomacy and military force to try to wrest control of dozens of key cities from insurgents before planned January elections, a senior administration official said Friday.
The strategy — already largely outlined by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top officials in recent weeks — was developed over the summer as Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry (search) was accusing President Bush (search) of lacking a coherent plan to end the rising violence and pave the way for the withdrawal of American troops.
With more than 1,000 Americans killed, Iraq has become a dominant issue in the campaign.
Administration officials — most notably Rumsfeld and State Department officials — have differed openly about whether Iraqi elections have to be held in every area of the country, because of the violence.
The administration argues that it is pursuing an integrated political, economic and military strategy to defeat the insurgency, and identifies dozens of areas where the strategy is to be applied, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plan is classified.
"You've seen examples of the strategy in action," the official said. "You saw it in Najaf, you've seen it in Samarra and you see it in offensive military actions that are taking place now in parts of the so-called Sunni triangle," the official said, referring to U.S. military offensives.
Yet, Rumsfeld has also made clear that a U.S. military offensive into additional Iraqi cities could still be delayed or avoided altogether, depending if political negotiations work.
Other military officials and outside defense analysts also have said those offensives into cities could be delayed if Baghdad and Washington settle for partial, rather than full, Iraqi participation in elections in January.
The Pentagon fears that Iraqi forces may not be strong enough to hold cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, even if American forces manage to root out insurgents there, Pentagon officials and defense analysts say.
Rumsfeld has said repeatedly that the options for regaining cities in Iraq boil down to two choices: first try to end the insurgencies in those cities through negotiations, and then use force if necessary if that doesn't work.
Meanwhile, L. Paul Bremer (search), who was the top U.S. official in postwar Iraq before the turnover of power to an interim government, sought to calm a controversy over his assertions that the United States had paid a price in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of major combat operations because it did not have enough troops on the ground to stop looting.
Writing on the New York Times op-ed page on Friday, Bremer said it was no secret that he had tactical disagreements with military commanders and others while in Iraq. But he said he underscored his "constant public support for the president's strategy in Iraq and his policies to fight terrorism."