A growing number of Republicans are breaking rank with President Bush on Iraq, with Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico the latest to call for a new strategy. Domenici's comments come as the Democratic-led Senate prepares to open debate on Iraq policy. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
Senator Pete Domenici's comments to reporters in Albuquerque, New Mexico are significant because he had long been a supporter of President Bush's Iraq policy.
He now feels differently:
"I am unwilling to continue our current strategy when the Iraqi government fails to advance the interests of the Iraqi people, or even make modest progress toward self-sufficiency," he said.
Domenici joins two other key Republicans who have urged the Bush administration to take a new direction in Iraq in recent weeks. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator George Voinovich of Ohio say the United States should reduce its military presence in Iraq and bolster diplomatic efforts.
U.S. strategy in Iraq is expected to be the focus of Senate debate next week, when lawmakers consider a defense authorization bill. Senate Democratic leaders plan to force votes on proposals to limit spending on the war and set a timeline for withdrawing most troops by next year.
Domenici says he would oppose an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq and a cut off of funds for the troops. Instead, he expressed support for the approach proposed by the Iraq study group.
That bipartisan group called for the U.S. mission to transition from combat to supporting Iraqi security forces.
At the White House, spokesman Tony Fratto played down the significance of Domenici's comments, saying they were part of a thoughtful discussion about Iraq policy. He noted that Domenici, Lugar and Voinovich all opposed immediate troop withdrawals and cut-offs in funding for the troops.
Fratto said it is too soon to gauge progress of the U.S. troop surge. He said September would be the appropriate time, when General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is to deliver a report to Congress.
But Senator Domenici suggested that the patience of the American people is running out. He said a recent phone call from a father who lost a son in Iraq convinced him that the time had come for him to speak out.
"One father said, 'Yes, you were right Senator. My son wanted to be in that war, he wanted to fight. But now I am speaking for me, his father,' said he. 'I am asking you if you could do a little extra, a little more, if you can't get the troops back,'" said Mr. Domenici.
The calls for a new direction in Iraq by Domenici, Lugar and Voinovich could prompt other Republicans to break party ranks.
Lawmakers will be returning to Washington next week after spending a week with their constituents, and listening to their concerns about the war. Some lawmakers traveled to Iraq this past week to get a first-hand look at the situation.
Among them was the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia, who has signaled his own concern about the course of the war.
The top Democrat in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, is calling on Republicans, as he put it, not to just say the right things on Iraq, but to vote the right way to bring a responsible end to the war.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers are expected to consider a measure that would require the redeployment of U.S. troops to be completed by April 2008.