WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House rejected on Sunday a proposal by two influential Republican senators that would require President George W. Bush to plan for a possible troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year.
Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said it was too early to change Iraq strategy. Any consideration must await a progress report due in September from Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Hadley also played down comments by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that Iraq would be ready to take over security from U.S. forces “any time” they withdrew. Hadley said that is a shared goal but more equipment and training are needed.
Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari disputed suggestions that Maliki was calling for an immediate U.S. troop pullout.
Under the proposal this week by Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana, Bush would have to plan for a troop drawdown or redeployment that could begin after December 31. It does not mandate deadlines for action but says the plan should be ready by October 16.
Hadley was asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether the administration could live with the plan. “No,” he said. “Hearing from our commanders on the ground in September is the first step.” The report is to assess political and security progress in Iraq under a U.S. troop escalation launched in Baghdad and volatile Anbar province.
An interim report last week said Iraq had made only limited progress in meeting goals for reconciliation and security.
Lugar said on ABC’s “This Week” that Bush could already begin work on a post-September strategy shift by planning with Petraeus and laying the diplomatic groundwork. “We don’t have to wait until the 15th of September and Gen. Petraeus’ report,” he said.
Warner and Lugar are two of the leading Senate voices in Bush’s Republican Party on military and foreign-policy issues, and their proposal comes as a growing number of Republicans are joining Democrats in challenging the president’s war policy.
Hadley noted that Warner and Lugar did not call for a withdrawal deadline or schedule — unlike some Democratic plans — and they envisioned a U.S. involvement in Iraq for a “considerable period of time.”
“All they’re simply saying is we need to think about now how we can transition to a new phase in Iraq when U.S. forces may have a different role,” he said.
Maliki said on Saturday that Iraqi forces were ready to take over security from the U.S. international force. American commanders have warned it could take months before Iraqi security forces could take over in violent parts of the country and that the Iraqi army had been diminished by war fatigue.
Zebari, speaking on CNN’s “Late Edition,” said Maliki was referring only to an eventual goal but Iraq would need an international troop presence for some time. “In no way actually, as many of the media reports indicate, was he calling for an immediate, abrupt departure of these forces.”