All odds against President Bush:
Iraq pullout: White House in two minds
UNITED STATES: Faced with Republican defections, senior US officials
are debating whether President George W. Bush should announce soon his
intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi cities,
The New York Times reported on its website late Sunday.
Citing unnamed administration officials, the newspaper said Bush and
his aides once thought they could wait to begin those discussions until
after September 15, when the top military commander and the US
ambassador are scheduled to present a progress report.
But some of Bush's aides now believe forces are combining against him
just as the Senate prepares to begin what promises to be a contentious
debate on the defense authorization bill, the report said.
About half a dozen Republican senators have recently announced they
can no longer support Bush's Iraq strategy and demanded change.
As a result, The Times said, some aides are now telling Bush that if
he wants to forestall more defections, it would be wiser to announce
plans for a far more narrowly defined mission for US troops that would
allow for a staged pullback.
The president had rejected this strategy in December when it was
proposed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
"When you count up the votes that we've lost and the votes we're
likely to lose over the next few weeks, it looks pretty grim," the paper
quotes one senior official as saying.
In a sign of growing concern in the administration, Defense Secretary
Robert Gates canceled his Latin American tour Sunday to attend meetings
Last week, national security adviser Stephen Hadley was called in
from a brief vacation to join discussions on Iraq included political
strategist Karl Rove and Joshua Bolten, the White House chief of staff,
according to the report.
Officials describe Hadley as deeply concerned that the loss of
Republicans could accelerate this week, a fear shared by Rove, the
But they also said that Rove had warned that if Bush went too far in
announcing a redeployment, the result could include a further cascade of
defections - and the passage of legislation that would force a
withdrawal by a specific date, the paper said.
"Everyone's particularly worried about what happens when McCain gets
back from Iraq," one of the officials is quoted by The Times as saying.
Republican Senator John McCain has been a stalwart supporter of the
"surge" strategy, but is facing political troubles in the race for the
Republican nomination for president.
His poor performance in the polls attributed to his position on Iraq
has fueled speculation that McCain may declare that the Iraqi government
is incapable of reaching the kind of political accommodations that
Washington considers necessary for overall success, The Times said.
Meanwhile President Bush faced a fresh attack from congressional
Democrats over his Iraq policy, after a damning report predicted the
war-torn country would fail to meet key benchmarks.
Democrats geared up for a new push for a US exit from Iraq amid a
surge in bloodshed over the weekend and a growing swell of discontent
from the public and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Citing senior administration officials, The Washington Post said
Sunday that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government was
unlikely to meet any of the goals set by Bush when he announced a major
shift in US Iraq policy last January.
Bush had vowed that boosting US troop levels would re-establish
security on the ground so that Maliki's government could "take
responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November" and
make legislative progress.
In addition, the US Congress this year passed a law containing 18
goals as part of a war-funding measure that set a September deadline for
a reassessment of the situation on the ground.
Part of that deal called for an interim report, due next week, which
concludes that US combat deaths have escalated, violence has spread
beyond Baghdad and sectarianism has further polarized Iraq, the
"The security progress we're making in Iraq is real," a senior
intelligence official in Baghdad was quoted as saying, "but it's only in
part of the country and there's not enough political progress to get us
over the line in September."
The US administration's interim report says that Sunni tribal leaders
in Al-Anbar province are turning against Al-Qaeda, that sectarian
killings were down in June, and that Iraqi political leaders last month
agreed on a unified response to the bombing of a major religious shrine.
However, such rosy assessments clashed with realities on the ground,
as Iraq was left reeling by a series of vicious attacks, including a
truck bomb blast Saturday that killed 140 people in a rural town near
the northern oil hub of Kirkuk.
Further eroding political support for both Bush and Maliki, the US
military announced that 22 soldiers and marines had lost their lives
last week, in addition to two British soldiers who died in Basra.
With public discontent with the war on the rise, House speaker Nancy
Pelosi was set to introduce a bill to authorize troop redeployments to
start within four months and to be completed by April 1, 2008, a formula
Bush has already blocked once with a presidential veto.
Senate Democrats have said they would introduce their own attempts to
force Bush to accept troop withdrawal timelines, extend rest periods for
troops between deployments and curtail his congressional authorization
to wage war.
Senate sources said veteran Senator Robert Byrd and presidential
candidate Hillary Clinton will frame an amendment to a Defense
Authorization bill that would sunset Bush's authorization to wage war in
Iraq in October - five years after it was granted.
Meanwhile, Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed will propose an
amendment that would require a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days
of becoming law, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The influential newspaper also called for US troops to leave Iraq,
saying in an editorial that Bush's plan to stabilize the country through
military means is a lost cause.
"It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush's plan is to stay the course
as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever
his cause was, it is lost," the daily opined.
Meanwhile bombings and shootings killed at least 60 people Sunday
around Baghdad in a surge of violence, and prominent Shiite and Sunni
politicians said civilians should take up arms to defend themselves
after a horrific suicide bombing north of the capital.
The calls reflect growing frustration with the ability of Iraqi
security forces to prevent extremist attacks following a bloody weekend
in which more than 220 people were killed across the country - many of
them in a huge truck bombing Saturday in northern Iraq.
Washington, Baghdad, Monday, AFP, AP