WASHINGTON -- The White House announced a shuffling of US military leaders in the Iraq war yesterday as the new Democratic leaders in Congress criticized plans President Bush is considering to boost US troop strength in the war zone.
Bush will nominate Admiral William J. Fallon, who commands American forces in the Pacific, to replace General John P. Abizaid as the top US commander in the Middle East. Bush will nominate Army Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces, to replace General George W. Casey Jr. as top American general in Iraq.
Casey in turn will replace General Peter Schoomaker, who is retiring as Army chief of staff.
"The president has accepted these recommendations and will be forwarding the nominations and he's pleased to do so," said Tony Snow, the White House press secretary.
The appointments, which must be confirmed by the Senate, represent a visible demonstration of Bush's desire to shift gears in Iraq. The changes come days before the president plans to announce a new strategy in the war, in which more than 3,000 US troops have been killed.
Bush's strategy is expected to entail new political, military, and economic steps. The military approach, which has attracted the most attention and skepticism from Congress, is expected to include an increase in US forces, possibly 9,000 additional troops deployed to Baghdad alone.
There are about 140,000 US troops in Iraq.
In a further change, Bush will also nominate Ryan Crocker, a veteran American diplomat now US envoy to Pakistan, to replace Zalmay Khalilzad as the US ambassador to Iraq. Khalilzad will be named ambassador to the United Nations, according to a senior Bush administration official.
Both Abizaid and Casey have expressed qualms in recent weeks about boosting US forces in Iraq. Abizaid said an increase of 20,000 could not be sustained for long by the overburdened American military, and Casey said such a boost should be used only to advance US strategic goals.
In another major change late last year, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld, the architect of the unpopular war.
Besides ushering in new personnel, Bush discussed his plans yesterday for the Iraq war with more than a dozen senators and House members, a list that included some of his biggest critics as well as ardent supporters.
Bush has also decided to shift John Negroponte, national intelligence director, to the State Department to become the number two official to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Replacing Negroponte would be retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, a veteran of more than 25 years in intelligence.