Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's secret memo to President Bush offering new approaches in Iraq was developed over a period of weeks, according to a newly declassified cover letter.
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, also said that Rumsfeld had instructed Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander for U.S. forces in the Middle East, to assemble his own group "some time ago" to consider new approaches in Iraq - "since war plans of this type" are the responsibility of Abizaid's command.
There has been no public disclosure of recommendations from the Abizaid group.
Paper in works for 'some weeks'
The letter, addressed to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, was transmitted with the memo and dated Nov. 6, two days before Rumsfeld resigned.
The cover letter was declassified Monday by Rumsfeld.
The options paper remains a classified secret, although its contents were published in full by the New York Times on Sunday and authenticated by Pentagon press secretary Eric Ruff.
Some in Congress have questioned the timing of Rumsfeld's memo outlining "illustrative new course of action" in Iraq, suggesting that it came to light as a way of defending Rumsfeld's reputation as he was about to leave office.
The Rumsfeld cover letter makes clear that he had been working on the options paper for some weeks.
Concerns of inconsistency
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Monday she viewed the memo as inconsistent with Rumsfeld's recent congressional testimony, and she said he should have shared these suggestions with Congress many months ago.
"The memo by Secretary Rumsfeld and the leaking of it very much reminded me of a strategy of trying to leave office saying that you actually had a lot of good plans that were different than your public utterances," Collins said.
In the options paper, Rumsfeld declared, "In my view it is time for a major adjustment" in Iraq. He had previously stated publicly the current policy is not working well enough or fast enough, but he had not called for major change.
Rumsfeld did not recommend any particular new course of action but enumerated about 20 possible alternative courses, including to begin modest withdrawals of U.S. forces "so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."
Other options included an accelerated drawdown of U.S. military bases in Iraq; having U.S. forces provide security only for those provinces or cities that openly request U.S. help; and positioning substantially more U.S. troops near the Iranian and Syrian borders to reduce infiltration of foreign fighters.
In the cover letter accompanying the secret memo, Rumsfeld wrote that he and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had mentioned to Bush "a number of weeks ago" that they were considering alternative approaches for Iraq.
"It is clear that the current path in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough. Change is needed," Rumsfeld wrote.
The defense secretary said he had given his options paper to Pace to use as a "discussion piece" with the chiefs of the military services. He said Pace and the chiefs have been discussing various options on their own.