WASHINGTON – President Bush prepared Friday to meet with his top general in the Middle East amid growing concerns that Iraq is slipping deeper into intractable crisis.

“There’s a reason why the violence is increasing,” Bush said at a fundraiser Friday. “We’re confronting those who would like to sow sectarian violence.”

Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are scheduled to consult today with top U.S. commanders in Iraq.

Though the White House says no major changes are in the offing, the moves, particularly when paired with increasing criticism from generals, and Republicans running for re-election, suggest a recalibration could be coming.

On Thursday, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad that the military was reviewing its strategy in Baghdad and across Iraq. Caldwell’s was a stark suggestion that the U.S. may have blundered by massing forces in Baghdad, where they are more easily targeted. More than 70 U.S. personnel have died in combat this month, a pace that could eclipse the highest monthly toll in nearly two years.

Moving troops into Baghdad was intended as a final step to bolster the Iraqi military and police, which the U.S. has spent the past two years training, so U.S. troops can begin leaving.

G.I. Wilson, a retired Marine colonel who has done two tours in Iraq and has written extensively about counterinsurgent tactics, said U.S. forces had been “sucked into the urban areas.”

“When you get into urban areas, the violence escalates. The insurgents . . . win by driving up the casualties.”

In Washington, the higher casualties and campaign criticism have increased pressure for a strategic shift on Iraq. But Bush on Friday offered only what has become a standard enunciation of his Iraq policy.

“Our tactics are constantly changing,” he said. “I talk to our generals who are in charge of these operations, and my message to them is: Whatever you need we’ll give you, and whatever tactics you think work on the ground, you put in place.”

Rumsfeld said at a media briefing Friday that coalition forces have to continue to push control to the Iraqi security forces. He said the process will be bumpy at times, but it is necessary to ensure that the Iraqi forces do not remain dependent on the coalition.

“It’s their country, they’re going to have to govern it, they’re going to have to provide security for it, and they’re going to have to do it sooner rather than later,” he said. “And that means they’ve got to take pieces of it as we go along.”

(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-20-06 2054EDT

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