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White House seeks war "czar" for Iraq

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Help Wanted: White House seeks high-profile manager of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to coordinate competing agencies and make sure President George W. Bush's unpopular strategy is implemented.

In a tradition of presidential trouble-shooting, the White House is considering creating a "war czar" post in the National Security Council and has put out feelers to some retired generals to see if they would be interested.

But no takers so far. The Washington Post said at least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks had turned down the position.

Retired Marine Gen. John "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who rejected the White House overture, told the Post: "The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going."

After U.S. intelligence agencies came under fire for failures related to the September 11 attacks and Iraq, an "intelligence czar" was created as recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

The U.S. government also has a "drug czar" to oversee efforts to fight illegal drugs.

The "war czar" would report directly to Bush and national security adviser Stephen Hadley and coordinate policy with agencies including the Pentagon and the State Department, which at times have their own competing agendas.

Sheehan told the Post he thought Vice President Dick Cheney's hawkish war views continued to dominate administration policy. Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and retired Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston were also approached and said they were not interested, the newspaper said.

A majority of Americans favour a Democratic plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, according to a recent Newsweek poll. Bush, who insists he is the "decider" on matters of war, rejects setting a timetable for pulling out forces and is sending more troops to try to secure Baghdad.

In Afghanistan, fighting against a resurgent Taliban is expected to be heavy this year, and 2006 was the most violent year since U.S. led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.

The White House was considering having someone at the National Security Council of a "slightly higher profile that can help cut through bureaucracy and make sure that these policies are being implemented," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the idea was to have someone who was empowered to call a Cabinet secretary on behalf of the president to find out why requests by military commanders, the State Department or other agencies related to the Iraq and Afghan wars had not been met.

"So this person is not running the war," Gates said. "The person is better described as a coordinator and a facilitator."

The White House is considering a restructuring at the NSC after the resignation of Meghan O'Sullivan, the top NSC official on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the completion of strategic reviews on the two conflicts, Perino said. No decisions had been made, she said.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat, sniped at the White House for wanting to create a war czar, saying it was Bush's role to be military commander-in-chief.

"Someone needs to tell Steve Hadley that position is filled, it's the commander-in-chief, unless the decider's become the delegator," Emanuel said in a statement.

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