U.S. Defense Secretary due to recommend new Iraq policy

New U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is due to report to President Bush on his recommendations for a new policy in Iraq. The big issue is whether the U.S. should send more troops, or prepare to draw combat soldiers back from action.

Speaking at the end of three days of meetings with military and political leaders in Iraq, Mr Gates declined to say whether he plans to recommend a short-term increase in U.S. troop levels.

President Bush has been forced to seek a fresh approach to the conflict as the U.S. death toll continues to rise.

Robert Gates' consultations with senior military figures come two weeks after the Baker commission offered a stinging assessment of virtually every aspect of the U.S. venture in Iraq.

Robert Gates' visit ended as the military confirmed four more U.S. soldiers were killed on Thursday in Iraq's restive western province of Anbar.

The reputation of U.S. forces in the region have been marred by a number of incidents that showed troops mistreating Iraqi civilians.

Shortly after embarrassing photographs were published of U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a group of marines were accused of killing 24 unarmed civilians in the northern town of Haditha.

Analysts say, as President Bush prepares his new policy for Iraq, he must remember that it is not just his own legacy, but also the U.S.'s reputation that is depending on it.