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Bush Open To Suggestions On Iraq

President Bush conceded Friday that "right now it's tough" for American forces in Iraq, but the White House said he would not change U.S. strategy in the face of pre-election polls that show voters are upset.

With Republicans anxious about the potential loss of Congress — and with conditions seemingly deteriorating in Iraq — Mr. Bush addressed the question of whether he would alter his policies.

"We are constantly adjusting our tactics so that we achieve the objective, and right now it's tough, it's tough," Mr. Bush said in an Associated Press interview.

Mr. Bush summoned Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, to the White House for consultations Friday afternoon. The White House said Abizaid already was in town and Mr. Bush asked him over. The president also will consult by video conference on Saturday with Abizaid at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., and with Gen. George Casey, who leads the U.S.-led Multinational Forces in Iraq, to determine if a change in tactics is necessary to combat the increasing violence.

Despite calls for change, Mr. Bush said, "Our goal has not changed. Our goal is a country that can defend, sustain and govern itself, a country that which will serve as an ally in this war. Our tactics are adjusting."

There were fresh signs of Republican doubts about the war.

In a not so subtle dig at Mr. Bush's "cut and run" charges toward Democrats, his former No. 2 at the State Department, Richard Armitage, says the United States should "notify and walk," reports CBS News White House correspondent Jim Axelrod. Armitage says the United States should notify the Iraqis that the U.S. military will draw down troop levels over a reasonable time period. "We can't win this militarily," Armitage says.

Also, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who holds a seat deemed safe for the GOP, said in a campaign debate Thursday she would have voted against the war had she known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction.

The president is showing no flexibility on a phased withdrawal — it's called a non-starter. The idea of dividing Iraq into three separate regions is ruled out, too, reports Axelrod.

In other developments:

  • Shiite and Sunni leaders have issued a series of edicts forbidding violence between Iraq's two Muslim sects. The edicts came at the end of a two-day meeting in Mecca. Participants included both Shiite and Sunni clerics as well as representatives of Iraq's prime minister. A spokesman said the fatwas were vetted and approved by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's top Shiite cleric, as well as radical anti-U.S. Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. But some are questioning whether the fatwas will be heeded.
  • Iraq's prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, barred the Health Ministry from releasing alarming casualty figures that showed violence in Iraq was killing 100 civilians a day and provided a rare insight into the worsening sectarian conflict, according to an internal U.N. memo obtained Friday.
  • Sources tell CBS News that a report on the Iraq situation by former Secretary of State James Baker's study group, to be delivered after the election, will be pessimistic in tone but will likely avoid calls for radical change, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante. As the source put it, the group won't bring the president any proposals that amount to cover for defeat.
  • On Friday, the Shiite militia run by the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr briefly seized control of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah (video) in one of the boldest acts of defiance yet by the country's powerful, unofficial armies. Tom Casey, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said the United States was urging the Iraqis to make sure that security in Amarah was returned to the government.
  • Three Iraq doctors have written to the British Medical Journal begging the international medical community to help with training and equipment, reports . Dr. Bassim al Sheibani of the Diwaniyah Medical School in central Iraq says more than half of those killed in the violence could have been saved by basic medical treatment.

    Democrats also kept up the pressure on Mr. Bush. In a letter to the president, a dozen House and Senate Democratic leaders urged him to bring home some U.S. troops and force the Iraqis to take more responsibility for their security. The Democrats said Mr. Bush should do more to pressure Iraqi leaders to disarm militias and find a political solution that would curb violence.

    "The steadily mounting sectarian violence, growing insurgency and escalating casualty figures in Iraq are unacceptable and unsustainable," the Democrats said. "We urge you to change course, level with the American people and join with us to develop a policy that will work before the situation in Iraq is irretrievable."

    Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said that while Bush might change tactics, he would not change his overall strategy.

    "He's not somebody who gets jumpy at polls," Snow said of Mr. Bush.

    Mr. Bush, at a political fundraiser in Washington for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, railed against Democrats who criticize the war. Calling the Democrats the party of "cut and run," Mr. Bush said voters need to ask: "Which political party has a strategy for victory in this war on terror?' "

    As of Friday, the U.S. combat death toll in Iraq during October stood at 75 — possibly heading for the highest for any month in nearly two years. Now in its fourth year, the war has claimed the lives of more than 2,785 Americans. Approval of Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq has dipped to 37 percent among likely voters in the AP-Ipsos poll early this month, down slightly from 41 percent last month.

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Iraqi government must become less reliant on the United States to handle security. He also said U.S. officials are working with the Iraqis to develop projections on when that might happen.

    "It's their country, they're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later," Rumsfeld said.

    "The biggest mistake would be to not pass things over to the Iraqis, create a dependency on their part, instead of developing strength and capacity and competence," he said.

    Doubts about the effectiveness of current tactics have risen, and the U.S. military has said its two-month drive to crush insurgent and militia violence in Baghdad has fallen short. Attacks in Baghdad rose by 22 percent in the first three weeks of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when compared to the three previous weeks.