US President nominates new Deputy Secretary of State and new Intelligence Director

The US President George Bush has officially nominated John Negroponte as his new Deputy Secretary of State. Meanwhile, retired Navy Admiral Mike McConnell was named to succeed Mr Negroponte as national Intelligence Director.

In addition, early next week Mr Bush is expected to replace top figures responsible for carrying out his policy in Iraq.

This will coincide with the announcement of his much anticipated new strategy for the country, taking into consideration the fact that the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress on Thursday.

Public discontent with the Republican handling of the war in Iraq is said to be the main reason behind the victory of the Democrats, who have already started to challenge Republican President George W. Bush on his policies there.

In her inaugural speech, the first ever female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Earlier, the same message in the form of a recommendation was put forward by the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group’s Report, published in December.

So far, over 3,000 U.S. servicemen have died in the conflict.

“It is the responsibility of the President to articulate a new plan for Iraq that makes it clear to Iraqis that they must defend their own streets and their own security, a plan that promotes stability in the region and a plan that allows us to responsibly re-deploy our troops,” stressed Ms Pelosi.

As for other new appointments in Mr Bush’s administration, it is reported that General John Abizaid, who is the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, will be replaced by Admiral William Fallon, who is currently holding the same rank in the Pacific.

Furthermore, Army Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces, is said to be taking over from the commanding General in Iraq, George Casey.

On past occasions both Mr Abizaid and Mr Casey have voiced concerns at increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

However, in a joint press conference with German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the US President gave little away about what his final plan will include.

“I’ll be ready to outline a strategy that will help the Iraqis achieve the objective of a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself sometime next week. I’ve still got consultations to go through. Whatever decision I make though will be all aimed at achieving our objective,” said Mr Bush.

Nevertheless, President Bush did comment on the execution of Saddam Hussein saying he wished it had been done in a more dignified manner but that justice was done.

Meanwhile, two of Saddam Hussein's co-defendants are expected to be executed soon. 

Both were convicted along with the former Iraqi leader, for their roles in the killing of 148 Shia Muslims in 1982.

Barzan al Tikriti, one of Saddam Hussein's three half-brothers, who headed the Iraqi secret service, was captured by American forces in April 2003.

The other condemned man, Awad al Bandar, headed the Revolutionary court which issued death sentences on 143 Dujail residents following a failed assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein in 1982.

The two were sentenced to death by hanging on November 5, 2006 along with Saddam Hussein who was hanged on December 30.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has backed calls for the Iraqi president to refrain from further executions.

Nobody can stop the executions, even with the massive demonstrations in Saddam's hometown – that's the position of the Iraqi government, which is preparing to execute Saddam Hussein's two co-defendants.

According to the prime minister's adviser, neither the president nor the prime minister are allowed to commute the sentences.

It means they may be carried out in a matter of days.

At the same time the investigation into the unauthorized filming of Saddam's execution is underway.

Two security guards at Saddam Hussein's execution have been arrested for allegedly filming the hanging of the former Iraqi leader on a mobile phone and later distributing it to the media.

The arrests resulted from an investigation into the question of how witnesses at Saddam's execution were able to film on a mobile phone, and later distribute it to the media. The fact of filming itself, as well as Saddam's treatment before his death, recorded on video, raised a wave of indignation among Sunni Muslims, who attacked a Shiite shrine on Wednesday. 

The Iraqi interior minister says anyone involved in the filming will be punished.

“The prime minister was keen to implement the law and all its measures. He called me directly to form an investigation committee to probe into this issue (Saddam's illicit video). It is obvious from the Iraqi state procedures that when the law is implemented, on the tyrant Saddam, there will be no forgiveness or leniency in charging or punishing anyone who did not follow the rules,” he said.

The U.S. President told the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki it was “the right thing to do” to investigate the filming of the execution.