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Key US Senate Supporter of Iraq War Calls for Policy Changes

A Republican Senator who supports the war in Iraq is calling on the Bush administration to make broad changes in its strategy to fight the insurgency and increase troop deployments there.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, who challenged President Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000 and who is said to be considering running for the White House again in 2008, praised the Bush administration for its resolve in Iraq.

But in a speech in Washington, Senator McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the administration should seek a new approach to fighting the insurgency.

Instead of trying to shift forces around the country to secure all of Iraq from insurgents, he said U.S. troops should concentrate on securing and holding insurgent strongholds. "Our forces would begin by clearing areas, with heavy force if necessary, to establish a zone as free of insurgents as possible. The security forces can then cordon off the zone, establish constant patrols, by American and Iraqi military and police, to protect the population from insurgents and common crime, and arrest remaining insurgents as they are found," he said.

Senator McCain said in this newly secure environment, reconstruction could proceed without fear of attack and sabotage, and political meetings and campaigning could take place in the open. In short, he argued, civil society could emerge.

The Senator said such a strategy would require more troops, and would result in more casualties. But he said it was necessary to stabilize the country.

Some 150,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. More than two-thousand U.S. military personnel have been killed since the war began in March 2003.

Senator McCain criticized congressional Democrats who are calling on the administration to withdraw troops, saying that would lead to civil war and a more unstable Middle East. He took particular aim at Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who has proposed withdrawing 20,000 U.S. troops following Iraq's elections in December. "Senator Kerry's call for the withdrawal of 20-thousand American troops by year's end represents, I believe, a major step on the road to disaster. Draw-downs must be based on conditions in-country, not arbitrary deadlines rooted in our domestic politics."

Speaking on the Senate floor, Senator Kerry responded, saying it is the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq that is fueling the insurgency. "The promise simply to stay as long as it takes in fact exacerbates the situation. It is not a policy. To undermine the insurgency, we must instead simultaneously pursue a political settlement that gives Sunnis a real stake in the future of Iraq while at the same time reducing the sense of American occupation. That means a phased withdrawal of American troops, as we meet a series of military and political benchmarks," he said.

Senator Kerry also criticized the administration for not seeking more international support for the U.S. military effort in Iraq. "We cannot and we should not do this alone. The administration must immediately call a conference of Iraq's neighbors, and Britain, Turkey, other key NATO allies, Russia. The absence of legitimate international effort with respect to this is absolutely extraordinary," he said.

But Senator McCain said other nations are not willing to help until the situation stabilizes. "Despite our cajoling, nagging and pleading, few other countries around the world will share much of our burden. Iraq is for us to do, for us to win or lose, for us to suffer the consequences or share in the benefits," he said.

Mr. McCain also criticized as deeply unwise the Pentagon's practice of rotating generals in and out of Iraq. He said such commanders, with their hard-won experience, should stay in place.