Bush considers dialogue with Iran among 'fresh options' for conflict

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Amid new mayhem and political turmoil in Iraq, President Bush meets a key panel of advisers today to find a way out of the crisis, with his aides saying everything is on the table - including an overture to Iran.

A "fresh approach" was needed, Josh Bolten, the White House chief of staff said yesterday, adding that all options were on the table. Among the ideas floated by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, chaired by the former Secretary of State James Baker, are not only a phased withdrawal of US forces, but also the notion of bringing Iran and Syria into a deal on the future of Iraq.

Today's session at the White House is especially significant as it comes just five days after the ousting of Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary and a principal architect of the débâcle, and the promise by the President of a sweeping rethink of strategy.

The desperate need for change was underscored by events in Iraq yesterday. A suicide bombing that killed 35 people in an attack on a police recruiting centre in Baghdad was but the worst in a string of deadly incidents, while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded a sweeping reshuffle of his government.

The administration's hopes of winding down the US military presence this year have foundered on the Maliki government's inability to end the sectarian violence. Three more US soldiers were killed at the weekend, bring total casualties since the March 2003 invasion to some 2,850.

But there are no easy solutions for the ISG. The White House no longer talks of "staying the course", but Mr Bush has ruled out a fixed timetable for the departure of the 145,000 US troops in Iraq, saying that would hand victory to the insurgents, and embolden terrorists worldwide.

Nor is there any sign Iraqi security forces will fill the gap left by an American withdrawal.