Source AP ©

President George W. Bush consults military leaders about Iraq

President George W. Bush, consulting military leaders on how to go forward in Iraq, is expected to hear deep concerns about the long-term impact on U.S. forces of maintaining a heavy troop presence in Iraq in 2008 and beyond.

Iraq was to be the main topic at a meeting, scheduled for Friday, at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The Army and the Marine Corps have shouldered most of the burden in Iraq, creating strains that service leaders fear could hurt their recruiting as well as their preparedness for other military emergencies. The Joint Chiefs, however, were not expected to urge Bush to withdraw from Iraq entirely as many Democrats want.

Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs, told reporters that Friday's meeting in a secure conference room known as "the tank" would be the Joint Chiefs' opportunity to "provide the president with their unvarnished recommendations and their assessments of current operations" - in particular the situation in Iraq.

It did not appear that the session was intended to work out a consensus military view on how long Bush should maintain the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq or how soon to transition to Iraqi control of security.

Bush in recent public statements has suggested he intends to stick to his Iraq strategy for now.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said this week that Gates wanted to ensure that all senior military leaders had an opportunity to express their individual views on Iraq to the president, without feeling the need to present a consensus view.

Bush was to hear advice from Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Adm. William Fallon, the senior commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East; and the top commanders in Baghdad.

The Pentagon meeting takes place as an independent assessment of the war has concluded that Iraq has made little political progress in recent months despite the influx of U.S. troops the president ordered earlier this year.