Tue, Nov 14, 2006 - Page 1 News List

US lawmakers urge phased troop withdrawal from Iraq

CHANGING COURSE A panel of experts on Iraq as well as high-ranking officials are eyeing a pull-out within the next four to six months, as violence continues to escalate

AFP AND AP , WASHINGTON AND BAGHDAD

US President George W. Bush was set to hold a meeting yesterday with a bipartisan panel of foreign policy experts working on recommendations about US strategy in Iraq as leading lawmakers on Sunday urged a phased withdrawal of US troops beginning in four to six months.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the Iraq Study Group is not due to present the president with its final report this week.

"That is yet to come, on a schedule to be determined by the study group itself," he added.

US Senator Carl Levin, presumed to become the chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee in January, said that Americans supported the short timeframe for withdrawal.

"The people spoke dramatically, overwhelmingly, resoundingly to change the course in Iraq," Levin told ABC news, saying that the US military commitment there is "not open-ended."

Senator Joe Biden, set to return to his role as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the US should call on the Iraqi government to resolve sectarian divisions through political compromise.

He said lawmakers would "put pressure on the Iraqis to insist upon a means to distribute the oil equitably, make sure there's some form of federalism and deal with the militias and call for an international conference."

Asked if he would include Iran and Syria in pursuit of international support for a peaceful Iraq, Biden said, "in my case, yes," adding that Turkey should be part of the plan as well.

Levin and Biden were expected to take leadership roles in the Senate in January after Democrats took control of the US Senate in last week's legislative elections.

Bush was speaking to members of the Iraq Study Group on the same day he was to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has warned the US against a "premature pullout" from Iraq.

Meanwhile in Iraq, violence rattled the center of the country yesterday when a bomb exploded in a minibus in Baghdad's largely Shiite Shaab neighborhood, killing at least 20 people and wounding 18.

Elsewhere, at least 10 other Iraqis died violently, including a member of the Diyala city council, Assim Mahmoud Abbas, who was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Fellow council member Ali Salboukh was wounded in the attack on their car, city council head Ibrahim Bajilan said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki is under extreme pressure both from his people and the US to curb violence, with Washington hammering on him to disband Shiite militias whose death squads are believed responsible for much of the killing.

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