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Gates points to new path on Baghdad

Hearing preview in questionnaire

WASHINGTON -- The US military must improve its planning for postwar operations, Robert M. Gates, the nominee for defense secretary, told a Senate panel.

"The post-major combat phase can be crucial," Gates wrote in response to the Senate Armed Services Committee's question asking what he would have done differently over the past six years if he were in charge of the Pentagon. "I would make this a priority."

Gates's comments appeared to distance him from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has been accused of failing to provide enough troops for the occupation of Iraq after the US invasion in 2003. The US has battled an insurgency that has dogged political, economic, and military progress .

'With the advantages of hindsight, I might have done some things differently," Gates wrote in the 65-page questionnaire that the panel asked him to fill out ahead of his nomination hearing, slated to open Tuesday.

The committee has scheduled one day of open and closed hearings and intends to vote on the nomination before the Senate leaves for Christmas vacation, said spokesman John Ullyot.

Unlike his answer on postwar planning, most of Gates's answers on Iraq, China, Taiwan, and North Korea reflected previous White House and Pentagon statements.

Gates was head of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. He first joined the spy agency in 1966, according to his official biography on the website of Texas A&M University. He has been president of the school, in College Station, Texas, since August 2002.

Senators are expected to press Gates on what changes he might make in US strategy in Iraq. There's increasing pressure on President Bush to begin lessening involvement, and the State and Defense departments and the National Security Council are conducting reviews.

So, too, is the independent and bipartisan Iraq Study Group, established by Congress and headed by a former secretary of state, James Baker, and former congressman Lee Hamilton. Gates was a member of the group and resigned when Bush nominated him to head the Defense Department.

On Iraq, Gates echoed the administration's view that "there is no purely military solution" and that "in principle, all options should be on the table" to contain the sectarian violence.

Among the options might be to enlist Syrian assistance to quell the violence, perhaps through its participation in a regional conference, Gates wrote.

Gates wrote that he agreed with the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq, stating "there is no question that Saddam Hussein's regime was a dangerous and disruptive force in the region."

"I believe that leaving Iraq in chaos would have dangerous consequences both in the region and globally for many years to come," he wrote.

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