WASHINGTON – As President Bush considered more U.S. troops for Iraq, the White House said Thursday that Bush and Iraq's prime minister had agreed on the need for enough military might to calm violence-wracked Baghdad.
Bush also told Nouri al-Maliki during a nearly two-hour conversation that "it was the right thing to do" to investigate the taking of cell phone video of Saddam Hussein at his hanging, White House press secretary Tony Snow said.
The unauthorized video showed the deposed president being taunted on the gallows followed by images of his dangling body. The unruly spectacle has infuriated many of Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs and caused international consternation.
The White House, however, not only has refused to join the criticism of how the execution was carried out but also has sought to minimize the fallout.
Snow, recounting what Bush told al-Maliki about the probe, said Bush "simply said that it was the right thing to do, that there were concerns in this country and around the world about it and that he thought that the prime minister was doing the right thing by taking a look at it."
Bush has chosen not to view the video. Snow said al-Maliki told Bush that Iraqi leaders were "pained at the filming." The spokesman also stressed that the two leaders talked about Saddam as "a tyrant who killed hundreds of thousands" and the expectations that there would be some violence after his death.
The president and prime minister spoke by secure video conference, with the second half of the conversation involving only the two leaders and their translators, Snow said.
Bush next week intends to present Americans with his new strategy for Iraq. The plan is expected to contain economic, political and diplomatic components.
Given the need to reduce high unemployment and draw Iraqis away from Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency, the president is considering loans to businesses. He is looking at getting Iraqis into short-term jobs by proposing a significant increase in the discretionary funds that military commanders can use for reconstruction projects.
Questions about what the president's plan will mean for the U.S. military presence in Iraq have gotten the most attention.
Snow said Bush and al-Maliki "were talking about the importance of having sufficient force within Baghdad to create a stable situation within the city."
The spokesman would not elaborate.
Bush is expected to recommend an increase in U.S. troop levels. The number and duration of any new deployment have not been disclosed and Army and Marine Corps generals have said any increase should come with a well-defined mission and tied to a broader strategy.
Snow said Bush and al-Maliki talked about all facets of a new strategy and that the president informed the Iraqi leader about "some things that are on his mind." But, Snow said, Bush "did not unveil a new way forward."
"The president and the prime minister exchanged ideas, but I'm not going to get into details," he said.
The lengthy conversation — which Snow said could be their last before Bush's speech — was just one sign the president either has made important decisions about his plan or is close to finalizing them.
The president on Friday planned to discuss his ideas with members of Congress at the White House, according to lawmakers and aides.
Sen. Ben Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, was one of those asked to a meeting, where he expected to get information on Bush's new strategy. Nelson, D-Neb., said he planned to urge the president to resist sending more troops to Iraq without setting firm conditions.