As violence has spiraled in Iraq, top U.S. officials have debated pulling intelligence officers off the so-far unsuccessful hunt for weapons of mass destruction and reassigning them to counterinsurgency efforts, officials said Wednesday.

THE UNITED STATES already is planning to recruit more Iraqis to gather information about opposition fighters and may increase security measures to protect troops, President Bush said Tuesday, the third straight day of bombings in Iraq.

But Pentagon, CIA and other top officials have not been able to agree on whether to reassign some of the 1,400 people working on the weapons search, three officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday.

One intelligence official said they have been struggling for more than three weeks over the question of whether shifting intelligence personnel to the battle against insurgent forces would be harmful. Other possibilities include moving the needed intelligence officers, linguists and others from somewhere else, contracting outsiders or options that the official declined to cite.

Some officials have made the case that the No. 1 priority is to stop the attacks on coalition forces, Iraqis and international organizations.

Others are arguing that it’s vitally important to find out what happened to biological and chemical weapons that the Bush administration said Saddam Hussein had and which constituted the main rationale for war.

Any move to reduce those working on the weapons hunt would likely have political implications since critics charge the administration exaggerated the weapons charge to justify a war it had already decided to wage, one official said.

Well, yeah. But they’re charging that anyway, right?

Update (1415): Army Times has the same story.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.