WASHINGTON -- As violence has spiraled in Iraq, top US officials have debated pulling intelligence officers off the unsuccessful hunt for weapons of mass destruction and reassigning them to counterinsurgency efforts, officials said yesterday.
The United States is planning to recruit more Iraqis to gather information about opposition fighters and may increase security measures to protect troops, President Bush said Tuesday, the third straight day of bombings in Iraq.
But Pentagon, CIA, and other top officials have not been able to agree on whether to reassign some of the 1,400 people working on the weapons search, three officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday.
One intelligence official said they have been struggling for more than three weeks over the question of whether shifting intelligence personnel to the battle against insurgent forces would be harmful. Other possibilities include moving the needed intelligence officers, linguists, and others from somewhere else, contracting outsiders, or options that the official declined to cite.
Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, said on Tuesday that "a shock of this kind" highlights the need to use resources more effectively than they are being used now.
"We can't survive daily losses of the magnitude we have experienced this week without dire consequences, both politically as well as in human terms," Daschle said.
Some officials have made the case that the number one priority is to stop the attacks on coalition forces, Iraqis, and international organizations.
Others are arguing that it is vitally important to find out what happened to biological and chemical weapons that the Bush administration said Saddam Hussein had and which constituted the main rationale for war.
Any move to reduce those working on the weapons hunt would probably have political implications, since critics charge the administration exaggerated the weapons charge to justify a war it had already decided to wage, one official said.
The 1,400 in the so-called Iraq Survey Group have been looking for weapons, former regime officials, and evidence on the fate of Navy pilot Scott Speicher, shot down and still missing from the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
At times, translators and analysts have been borrowed from the group to help with other intelligence work, one official said. But formally changing their tasking would require approval of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the official said.
The CIA is wary about undermining the search for weapons, The New York Times reported in yesterday's editions.
US commanders in Iraq have said for months they were working to improve their intelligence gathering to try to prevent attacks against coalition troops and the Iraqis who help them. They have claimed some successes by capturing or killing many of the top 55 most wanted members of the former government.