In the clearest sign yet of anxiety among Republicans over Iraq, two party elder statesmen have urged US President George W. Bush to begin pulling US troops out of the sectarian cross-fire by the end of the year.
A new blueprint by Senators Richard Lugar and John Warner was similar to plans from anti-war Democrats to yank soldiers out of the cauldron, with an important difference -- it did not include a hard date for troop withdrawals to be completed.
Lugar and Warner released their plan on Friday, a day after Bush rejected any changes to the war plan until US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus gives a definitive report on his troop "surge" strategy within two months.
"We are attempting to ensure that US military and diplomatic policy is prepared for change when the Petraeus report arrives in September," Lugar said.
"We are hopeful that regardless of where senators stand on surge versus withdrawal, they will find our amendment to be a constructive bipartisan attempt to prepare for whatever policy follows in the coming months," he said.
The plan also calls on Congress to reauthorize Bush to conduct military operations in Iraq, and to replace the 2002 authority which became the basis of the invasion in 2003.
Bush vowed to stick to his current course in Iraq on Thursday after a keenly awaited interim report on the surge showed only meager progress by the Iraqi government on a set of benchmarks for military and political progress.
The Lugar-Warner amendment, which appears designed to unite those Republicans who have broken with Bush on the war with anti-war Democrats, calls for a new plan narrowing the mission of US troops in Iraq to be delivered to Congress by Oct. 16.
The president should be ready to start carrying out the new approach by the end of the year, the amendment to a defense policy bill currently being debated in the Senate said.
It called for US troops to be transitioned from "policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" and their redeployment as "conditions permit."
US forces then would focus on securing Iraq's borders, denying a safe haven to terrorists, battling al-Qaeda and training and equipping Iraqi forces.
At the White House meanwhile, spokesman Tony Snow admitted Iraq's lawmakers would take a summer break -- despite their bad report card from Washington.
"You know, it's 130 degrees [54?C] in Baghdad in August," Snow said.
Top US officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have tried to persuade lawmakers to stay at work, conscious of claims in Washington that Iraqis are doing little to forge peace while US troops are dying in their country.
Bush meanwhile poured praise on US reconstruction teams working to restore services in war-wracked Iraq.
"What happens in Iraq matters to the United States of America. A violent, chaotic Iraq will affect our security at home," the president said.
Bush also summoned a phalanx of conservative columnists who support the war for a group interview at the White House on why he deserves more time.
But the New York Times said in an editorial yesterday that "Bush is still trying to twist reality to claim that his failed effort is worth sticking with."
Around a handful of Republican senators have publicly expressed dissatisfaction with Bush's refusal to change course in Iraq, though some, like Lugar, have said they are not yet ready to vote with Democrats on anti-war measures.
Lugar sent reverberations through Washington on June 25, with a speech on the Senate floor calling for a change in the US approach in Iraq, saying the surge strategy was unlikely to achieve its objectives.
The US House of Representatives on Thursday voted to pull most US combat truths out of Iraq by April 1 next year, though Bush has vowed to veto any troop withdrawal timetables that land on his desk.
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