WASHINGTON -- In an atmosphere of urgency, President Bush and his top foreign advisers sought new strategies Wednesday to speed the transfer of political power in Iraq as a top-secret intelligence report warned that Iraqis are losing faith in the U.S.-led occupation forces.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney sat down with L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Baghdad, at a National Security Council meeting also attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The urgency of the talks was underscored by the fact that Rumsfeld delayed takeoff for a trip to Asia to attend the White House session and Bremer was hurriedly summoned from Baghdad.
"It is an important phase we're in," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said. "We are having some serious consultations about how we move forward."
One option under consideration: naming a new interim Iraqi leader with authority to govern the country until a constitution can be written and elections held, an administration official said. That would be patterned after the model of Afghanistan.
The talks were held as an intelligence report warned that Iraqis are losing faith in U.S.-led occupation forces, a development that is increasing support for the resistance, officials said. Two senior U.S. officials said it describes a troubling picture of the political and security situation in Iraq.
The talks came at a time when Iraqi insurgents have stepped up attacks -- resulting in the bloodiest week for American soldiers since the end of major combat operations -- and as U.S. and Iraqi leaders struggle over how to draft a new constitution, a key step in handing over power to the Iraqis.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said more U.S. troops are needed in Iraq. He said the situation there is deteriorating and "we need more boots on the ground."
"This situation has got to be reversed ... if this trend continues we are in serious difficulty," he said on CBS' "The Early Show."
U.S. officials have had growing concerns about the performance of the governing council, a senior administration official said, particularly the lack of progress toward a Dec. 15 deadline to set a timetable for writing a new constitution and holding democratic elections.
Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi, said the accusations against the U.S.-appointed council are "nonsense and baseless." He added that the council had many achievements in the past few months such as naming ministers, issuing legislation and taking part in international events.
"The only solution is that the council be given full powers and sovereignty," Qanbar said. He said Chalabi is currently in Iraq.
Even as they expressed disappointment in the council's work, administration officials said Bush was not about to disband it.
"The notion that we are about to throw the council to the wolves is exaggerated," a third senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But there is a need to put some energy into the political transition. It is true they are not as together as we had hoped."