As insurgents stepped up their pressure in Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell advised President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in November that Iraqi security forces should be increased to counter attacks in the embattled Sunni Triangle.

Powell, a former four-star general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with long experience as an Army infantry officer in Vietnam and Germany, emphasized a need for more training of Iraqis during the White House meeting Nov. 12, a senior U.S. official said Friday.Blair's visit, which followed the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, focused mostly on opportunities for Middle East peacemaking that Blair and other European leaders saw in Arafat's passing.

But Bush and Blair also discussed Iraq and the difficult security problems that followed the war that removed Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.

Bush often calls upon Powell for advice, and in this case his emphasis on increased training and participation of Iraqi security forces was in accord with the views of Bush and Blair, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Though Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apparently was not present , he also favored increasing Iraqi security, the official said.

Considering Powell's military background, it is not unusual for him to advise Bush on national security issues, according to the official.

The conversation took place in the midst of a U.S. offensive to regain control of Fallujah, which is in the volatile Sunni Triangle where Iraq's insurgency has raged.

Powell did not urge Bush to increase the U.S. military presence in Iraq, the official said, but rather spoke only about a need for additional Iraqi security training and forces.

About three weeks later, however, the Pentagon announced that 12,000 U.S. soldiers would be added to the American-led coalition, bringing the total of U.S. soldiers to 150,000.

Even so, the insurgency - and the toll of casualties - have intensified.

Rumsfeld, on a Christmas Eve trip to Iraq that included a stop in Fallujah, assured U.S. soldiers Friday that they would prevail over the insurgents. "There's no doubt in my mind, this is achievable," Rumsfeld said in Mosul, where 22 people, most of them American soldiers and civilians, were killed Tuesday in the deadliest single attack on a U.S. base in Iraq.

Since Bush declared in May 2003 that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 1,181 members of the U.S. military have died.

In another development, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote Bush to express concern about attacks on religious places of worship, holy sites and individual members of religious communities in Iraq.

"The escalation of religious terror since August is having a particularly devastating effect on many of Iraq's non-Muslim minorities - the Chaldo Assyrians, Mandeans and Yizidis - who are reportedly fleeing the country in ever-increasing numbers, raising questions about the survival of these ancient communities," wrote Preeta D. Bansal, the commission chairwoman. The group requested a meeting with Bush.

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