Rumsfeld pays farewell visit to troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is in Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman said Saturday.

"He's there to express his appreciation to the troops and to thank both the troops and their families for the sacrifices they are making," said Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman.

Rumsfeld's trip follows an emotional farewell Friday at the Pentagon, where the defense secretary defended his record on Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said Friday that the worst day of his nearly six years as secretary of defense occurred when he learned of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.

Rumsfeld's Pentagon appearance Friday and his trip to Iraq, where he was Saturday, were among the few public appearances he has made since President Bush announced on Nov. 8 that he was replacing the defense secretary. His last full day will be Dec. 17.

Rumsfeld's farewell tour follows a grim picture of the Iraq war that was presented this week by a bipartisan commission headed by former secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton.

The Iraq Study Group said its prescription for change is needed quickly to turn around a "grave and deteriorating" situation.

The commission called for direct engagement with Iran and Syria as part of a new diplomatic initiative and a pullback of all American combat brigades by early 2008, barring unexpected developments, to shift the U.S. mission to training and advising.

President Bush's national security team is debating whether additional troops are needed to secure Baghdad -- a short-term force increase that could be made up of all Americans, a combination of U.S. and Iraqi forces, or all Iraqis, a senior administration official said Saturday.

Other options being debated for inclusion in what the president has said will be his "new way forward" include a revamped approach to procuring the help of other nations in calming Iraq; scaling back the military mission to focus almost exclusively on hunting al-Qaida terrorists; and a new strategy of outreach to all of Iraq's factions, whose disputes are fueling some of the worst bloodshed since the war began, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the disclosure of internal discussions had not been authorized.