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Last Updated: Monday, 3 September 2007, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Bush holds 'war council' in Iraq
President George W Bush greets troops
Mr Bush is facing intense debate over his troop surge strategy
US President George W Bush has met senior US and Iraqi officials at a US air base in Anbar province in Iraq.

The talks at al-Asad air base were attended by the US secretary of state, defence secretary, the US ambassador to Iraq and the head of US forces there.

They were joined by Iraq's PM Nouri Maliki and other senior Iraqis.

Mr Bush is facing pressure at home for a US withdrawal, but he insisted any pull out will only result from a "calm assessment" by leaders on the ground.

This is the last big gathering of the president's military advisers and the Iraqi leadership before the president decides on the way forward
Geoff Morrell
Pentagon spokesman

"Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground, not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media," said Mr Bush, addressing troops at the base on the US Labor Day holiday.

"In other words when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure."

White House 'anger'

Speaking to reporters earlier, Mr Bush said his top officials had advised him that if current successes continue, security levels could be maintained with fewer troops.

However, he made no specific reference to how much troop numbers could be cut or any possible timetable for withdrawal, adding: "America does not abandon its friends. America will not abandon the Iraqi people".

The BBC's Matt Frei in Washington says the comment could have been a reference to UK forces who on the same day that Mr Bush was visiting Anbar withdrew their last troops from inside the southern city of Basra.

A total of 5,550 UK troops are now located at the airport outside Basra and their Basra Palace base is under Iraqi control.

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Although the Bush administration has not publicly criticised the British, our correspondent says that in private officials are annoyed and say the move is not good for a White House which feels increasingly isolated.

The meeting in Anbar, which a Pentagon official called a "war council", comes just days before a key report on how Mr Bush's surge strategy is faring.

On 10 and 11 September, the head of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador, Ryan Crocker, are due to report to Congress on the situation in Iraq, focusing particularly on the effect of the surge, which reached full levels in June.

Secrecy

The president was accompanied on his visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the US national security adviser, Steven Hadley.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived ahead of Mr Bush for talks with senior US officials including Gen Petraeus and Mr Crocker.

"This is the last big gathering of the president's military advisers and the Iraqi leadership before the president decides on the way forward," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Nouri Maliki
Mr Maliki travelled to Anbar for just the third time since taking office
"This is very much a decisional meeting. This meeting will put him much closer to a decision if he hasn't made one yet."

In an extraordinary move, Iraq's senior leaders, including Prime Minister Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, travelled to Anbar to meet Mr Bush.

For Mr Maliki, a Shia, it was only his third visit to the Sunni-dominated province.

The last time Mr Bush was in Iraq was more than a year ago. Now, as then, the surprise trip was shrouded in secrecy because of the ongoing instability.

He stopped unannounced on board Air Force One en route to a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Australia and remained on the heavily protected air base for the duration of his visit. He has now left Iraq and is headed to Sydney.

The BBC's Hugh Sykes, in Baghdad, says Mr Bush's decision to land in Anbar province is significant. Anbar, west of Baghdad, has often been referred to as the centre of the Sunni insurgency, but the US now believes it has greatly reduced the threat from Sunni Arab militant groups, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, our correspondent says.

Several imams have been killed for supporting US-led forces and preaching against al-Qaeda in Iraq at Friday prayers, and many local tribes have turned against the insurgents, he adds.




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President Bush welcomed by US troops





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