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Bush to shuffle top positions

President Bush is to announce the new US spy chief, as he shuffles top intelligence, diplomatic, and military aides tied to Iraq.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2007 18:22 IST

President George W Bush is to announce the new US spy chief on Friday as he shuffles top intelligence, diplomatic, and military aides tied to Iraq ahead of announcing his retooled war-fighting strategy.

Bush's top advisers however remain split over sending more US troops to Iraq and over the reliability of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, the Washington Post reported, citing officials familiar with the debate.

The advisers fear Maliki's government may not provide the military support and implement the political reforms necessary for US forces to eventually withdraw, the Post reported.

Bush is set to nominate retired vice admiral Michael McConnell, a former head of the National Security Agency, to be the director of national intelligence, a top aide said speaking on condition of anonymity.

The current spy chief, John Negroponte -- the first US ambassador to post-Saddam Hussein Iraq -- will be US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy, the aide said. Both picks require US Senate approval.

The current US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, will be nominated to be US ambassador to the United Nations, a senior State Department official said.

He would replace the controversial John Bolton, whose tenure ended last week.

Replacing Khalilzad in Baghdad is Ryan Crocker, 57, the current US ambassador in Pakistan since November 2004.

Crocker is one of the State Department's most experienced Middle East experts and a fluent Arabic speaker.

On the military side, the head of the US Central Command and the top US military commander in Iraq are both set to change, ABC television and major US print media reported.

Admiral William Fallon would replace retiring General John Abizaid, 55, at the Central Command, which oversees US forces from the north Africa to central Asia. In Iraq, Lieutenant General David Petraeus would replace General George Casey as the man in charge of all US and coalition forces, according to the reports.

The White House declined to challenge the reports.

Both Abizaid, 55, and Casey, 58, had expressed reservations about a reported plan to increase the number of US troops in Iraq.

Fallon, 62, currently the head of US forces in the Pacific, was a navy combat pilot during the Vietnam War and is a veteran of NATO operations in Bosnia.

During the 1991 Gulf War he commanded an attack squadron.

Petraeus, 54, is best known for his role in training Iraqi security forces from mid-2004 to September 2005. He currently heads the US Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

During the 2003 invasion Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division, and was widely praised for his subsequent work administering the northern city of Mosul.

Several US news media sources including the Post reported that Bush is likely to announce sending up to 20,000 new troops to Iraq in his Iraq policy speech, which could come as early as on Wednesday.

But the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the top generals and admirals who advise the president on military policy -- believe the possible dangers of sending more US troops to Iraq outweigh the benefits, according to the Post.

The all-volunteer US military is already stretched thin with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those 20,000 soldiers could be obtained only by extending tours of duty, re-mobilising reserve units and accelerating planned deployments, according to the US media.

Bush had little to say about next week's Iraq speech when he spoke to reporters after meeting on Thursday with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The president held a nearly two-hour video conference with Maliki during which he said he made clear Washington expects "a full investigation" over the controversy surrounding Saddam's last week.

"I wish, obviously, that the proceedings had gone in a more dignified way," Bush told reporters.

"But nevertheless, he was given justice; the thousands of people he killed were not."

White House officials were unsure whether Bush would consult Maliki again before the Iraq speech.

The president did not address reports of plans to escalate the number of US troops in Iraq, but stressed: "One thing is for certain: I will want to make sure that the mission is clear and specific and can be accomplished."

The personnel overhaul begun when the president announced he was replacing one of the war's main architects, Donald Rumsfeld, a day after elections in which Bush's Republicans lost control of the US Congress to opposition Democrats, largely over voter anger about the Iraq war.

Robert Gates, a former head of the CIA, succeeded Rumsfeld as Defence Secretary in December.