Kuwait: First Stop In Iraq Troop Surge?

Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Peter Pace watch troops march during an Armed Forces Full Honor Review for Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, Friday, Dec. 15, 2006. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A 3,500-man brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division will be sent to Kuwait soon after the holidays, CBS News correspondent David Martin reports. The troops would be available immediately should President Bush order a surge into Iraq.

Pentagon officials expect incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to approve the request after he takes over from Donald Rumsfeld on Monday, Martin reports.

The 2nd Brigade, made up of roughly 3,500 troops, is based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and would be deployed in Iraq early next year if needed, a senior Defense Department official told the Associated Press. The move would be part of an effort to boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq for a short time, the official said. The plan was first reported by CBS News.

Senior administration officials say the option of a major surge in troop strength is gaining ground as part of the administration's strategy review, The New York Times reported on its Web site Friday night. Military planners and budget analysts have been asked to provide President Bush with options for increasing U.S. forces in Iraq by 20,000 or more, the newspaper reported.

In a half-hour video conference with Bush on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki outlined plans for the national reconciliation conference taking place in Baghdad on Saturday. Al-Maliki cited the desire of many people in Iraq for a larger core of Iraqi political leaders to come together for the common objective of stabilizing the country and promoting the rule of law, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in describing the conversation.

Al-Maliki also talked with Bush about providing greater security, in particular in Baghdad, by going after all sources of violence, including insurgents and militias, Johndroe said. Bush reiterated his support for al-Maliki and said he was encouraged by the meetings he had recently with Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, and with the leader of the largest Shiite bloc in Iraq's parliament, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.

In assessing the state of the war in Iraq, Bush has been meeting this week with top generals and other advisers. The military options being considered include an increased effort to train and equip Iraqi forces.

In other developments:

At the national reconciliation conference convened by the Iraqi government on Saturday, al-Maliki stressed that the national army has "opened its doors" to former members of Saddam Hussein's army as the government seeks help in curbing the rampant violence in the country.

Al-Maliki also offered an olive branch to former members of Saddam's outlawed Baath Party not found to be involved in crimes against Iraqis.

His comments were aimed at rallying ethnic, religious and political groups around a common strategy for handling Iraq's problems.

But the gathering was overshadowed by rising sectarian tensions and political divisions as al-Maliki's 7-month-old government faces growing dissent by coalition partners, including Shiite allies like radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr's bloc and the Sunni National Association of Muslim Scholars said they would not attend the gathering.

Al-Maliki reached out to the officers and soldiers who lost their posts after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam nearly four years ago. He imposed few conditions on the return of former military personnel, only cautioning that those allowed to serve in the new army should be loyal to the country and conduct themselves professionally.

"The new Iraqi army has opened its doors for members of the former army, officers and soldiers, and the national unity government is prepared to absorb those who have the desire to serve the nation," al-Maliki said.

He said the government needed "their energies, expertise and skills in order to complete the building of our armed forces."

Former troops already have the option of joining the army, but the outreach and pension offer was an apparent concession to a long-standing demand by Sunni Arab politicians who argue that the neglect of former army soldiers was spreading discontent and pushing them into the arms of the insurgency.

The two-day conference is being held at the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, a large swath of land that's home to the Iraqi government offices as well as the U.S. and British embassies. Nasir al-Ani, a spokesman for the conference, said "very few" of the opposition leaders living in exile and invited to attend showed up.

  • Sean Alfano

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