Republican senator: Bush should begin Iraq withdrawal

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush should announce on September 15 a small initial pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq to spur the Iraqi government to take steps toward political reconciliation, an influential Republican senator said on Thursday.

Virginia Sen. John Warner said Bush should “announce on the 15th that in consultation with our senior military commanders he has decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of our forces.”

Warner, a senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee who has pressed Bush to change his Iraq policy, suggested a withdrawal of “say 5,000” troops, who could be home by Christmas in December of this year.

Warner said the United States needed “to show that we mean business” when it says its commitment to Iraq is not open ended.

He spoke following his return from an Iraq visit and after the release of a U.S. intelligence estimate projecting that political progress in Iraq would remain elusive over the next year. The report said the position of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government would become more precarious.

Warner said he did not advocate “rapid pullout” from Iraq and pointed out he had voted against any timetable for withdrawal. Congress has asked for a progress report on Iraq by September 15.

U.S. troops had delivered on their commitment to enhance security in Baghdad and elsewhere, but Maliki’s government had “let our troops down,” Warner said. He said he could not go “as far” as Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan who called for Maliki to be replaced.