Gates an ‘agent for change’

This week’s resignation by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld followed a crushing defeat for the Republicans in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Bush has chosen as his replacement former CIA director and pragmatist Robert Gates, who is expected to be more inclined to consensus-building than the combative Rumsfeld.

“He has experience leading large and complex organizations, and he has shown that he is an agent of change,” Bush said in his weekly radio address.

“He will provide a fresh outlook on our strategy in Iraq, and what we need to do to prevail.”

Bush has acknowledged that voter frustration over Iraq helped fuel wins for Democrats that swept them to power in both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

While indicating he wants new ideas, Bush has insisted a quick withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is not on the table.

The White House is pushing to get Gates confirmed in the final weeks of the outgoing Congress, before power switches to Democrats early next year.

The Pentagon’s top general, Peter Pace, has said US military leaders are preparing to recommend changes in Iraq strategy.

The Iraq Study Group, led by Bush family friend and former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton, is also looking at alternative approaches.

In Iraq, gunmen killed 12 people and seized dozens more after stopping three minibuses carrying Shi’ites south of Baghdad.

The attack took place in Latifiya, a town in the “Triangle of Death”, so called because of the large number of attacks by Sunni insurgents against US troops. two car bombs in a Baghdad market killed eight people and Iraqi security forces were the target of several attacks around the country.

Gunmen stopped three minibuses carrying Shi’ites south of Baghdad, killed nine passengers and kidnapped 13 others, police said.

The massacre came as 21 others were killed in various attacks across the country, including 16 in Baghdad itself by a series of bombs.

Police also recovered 25 bullet-riddled corpses in the capital.