Key Republican Senator Calls For Troop Withdrawal From Iraq

An influential U.S. Senate Republican says President Bush should announce an initial withdrawal of troops from Iraq on September 15. Senator John Warner of Virginia made his comments to reporters Thursday, just days after visiting Iraq. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Senator Warner, a member and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he is recommending that President Bush announce the beginning of a troop withdrawal from Iraq on September 15 as a way to press the Iraqi government into taking steps toward political reconciliation.

"Take into consideration the need to send a sharp and clear message throughout the region, to the United States, and one that people can understand; I think [there is] no clearer form of that than for the president to announce on the 15th, that in consultation with senior military commanders, he has decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of our forces," said Senator Warner.

Warner says it would be up to the president to decide how many troops to redeploy, but suggested of the more than 160,000 troops in Iraq that 5,000 could be withdrawn and return home by Christmas Day of this year.

The senator says he is not advocating a rapid troop withdrawal, and noted that he previously has voted against timetables for withdrawals.

But he said the time has come to show that the United States is serious when officials, including President Bush, say the U.S. commitment in Iraq is not open-ended.

Speaking in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush is vacationing, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe responded to Warner's comments saying Mr. Bush would wait to receive a progress report from the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker in mid-September. The congress will also be briefed on the report. Johndroe says he does not believe the president feels any differently about setting a specific timetable for withdrawal, having previously said that that would embolden the enemy.

The comments from Senator Warner came just hours after the release of a U.S. intelligence estimate that predicted political progress in Iraq would remain elusive over the next year, and that the position of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government would become more precarious

Senator Warner says he agrees with the assessment. He says U.S. troops have made progress in boosting security in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. But he says Iraqi leaders have not made good on their commitment:

"I really firmly believe that the Iraqi government under the leadership of Prime Minister Maliki has let our troops down," he said.

But Warner would not go as far as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who called on the Iraqi parliament to oust Prime Minister Maliki and his cabinet. Warner said that is a decision for the Iraqi people to make, consistent with their constitution.

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