WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has approved a request by the new U.S. commander in Iraq for an extra 2,200 military police to help deal with an anticipated increase in detainees during the Baghdad security crackdown, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.
Gates also cited early indications that the Iraqi government is meeting the commitments it made to bolster security, although he cautioned that it was too early to reach any firm conclusions about the outcome.
"We're right at the very beginning," he told a Pentagon news conference. "But I would say that based in terms of whether the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they've made to us in the security arena, I think that our view would be so far, so good." He was referring to the movement of additional Iraqi troops into the capital.
Gates said that the request for extra MPs is in addition to the 21,500 combat troops that President Bush is sending for the Baghdad security plan, along with 2,400 support troops.
Gordon England, the deputy defense secretary, told Congress this week that the number of required support troops could reach 7,000.
"That's a new requirement by a new commander," Gates said of the request for more MPs by Gen. David Petraeus, who assumed command in Baghdad last month. He added that there were other troop requests still being considered in the Pentagon; he gave no specifics.
The day-to-day commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, has recommended that the higher troop level be maintained until February 2008, The New York Times reported on its Web site Wednesday night. Odierno said the extra troops are needed to support a sustained effort to win over the Iraqi populace.
Odierno made the recommendation to his superior, Gen. David Petraeus, but Petraeus has not yet acted on it, the report said, citing unidentified military officials.
House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, intend to propose legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008, and even earlier if the Iraqi government fails to meet security and other goals, Democratic officials said Wednesday night.
The conditions, described as tentative until presented to the Democratic rank and file, would be added to legislation providing nearly $100 billion the Bush administration has requested for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the officials said, speaking anonymously.
The legislation is expected on the floor of the House later this month, and would mark the most direct challenge to date the new Democratic-controlled Congress has posed to the president's war policies.
Gates said it was not a surprise that Sunni insurgents have launched increased attacks in recent days.
"I think that we expected that there would be in the short term an increase in violence as the surge began to make itself felt," Gates said, adding that there were other "very preliminary positive signs" that the Baghdad security plan is working.
Joining Gates at the news conference, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that in recent days the number of sectarian murders was down slightly and the number of car bombings was up.
"So I think you see potentially the Iraqi people wanting to take advantage of this opportunity and the enemy wanting to keep it going," Pace said.
Associated Press Special Correspondent David Espo contributed to this report.