White House Steps Up Damage Control on Iraq Intel Flap

The Bush administration (search) stepped up its efforts to reframe the debate over the Iraq war on Monday, sharing intelligence documents with the GOP (search) congressional leadership and urging Republicans to emphasize positive aspects of the war.

The administration is eager to move the national debate away from the flap over Bush's use of since-discredited intelligence on Iraq and Africa in his State of the Union (search) message. President Bush's job approval ratings are slipping in the latest polls and Democrats are increasing their criticism of his Iraq policy.

White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett (search) met on Monday with top GOP House and Senate staff members to essentially provide "talking points" for countering Democratic attacks, officials said.

The administration wants to try to shift the focus to the broader war on terrorism, and to some of the positive aspects of overturning Saddam Hussein's regime, including humanitarian gestures and the freeing of the Iraqi people.

Other aggressive efforts are expected by the administration in the days ahead to try to regain control of the message, including a possible speech on the issue by Vice President Dick Cheney (search) in the coming days, administration and congressional GOP aides said.

Cheney's own role in the lead-up to the war has been challenged by administration critics.

At the heart of the latest debate are 16 words in Bush's Jan. 28 State of the Union address in which he cited a British report suggesting that Saddam Hussein was actively seeking to buy uranium from Africa.

The claim -- based on an allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium ore in the west African nation of Niger -- has subsequently been challenged by U.S. intelligence officials. Top-level White House aides, including Bush national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, have said the words should not have been in the speech.

Bush himself has said the phrase had been cleared by intelligence agencies. Bush has sidestepped questions on whether he felt personally responsible for the tainted information, although CIA Director George Tenet has apologized for not raising objections to it ahead of the speech.

The White House last week began an offensive to try to stem the criticism, including putting out newly declassified portions of an October 2002 report to the president by the U.S. intelligence community that reflected widespread concern that Iraq was in fact in pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Still, release of the material raised additional questions about the rationale use by the administration and reflected deep divisions within the intelligence community.

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Monday that Bartlett's trip to Capitol Hill was an attempt to touch base with congressional allies on the subject and go over what the administration views as "misinformation."