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White House debate over troop withdrawal deepens

By Staff
Google Oneindia News

Washington, July 9: A debate is intensifying inside the White House over whether President George W Bush should try to prevent more Republican defections by announcing intentions for a gradual withdrawal of troops from high-casualty Iraqi areas, the New York Times said today.

Citing administration officials and consultants, the newspaper said these officials fear the last pillars of political support among US Senate Republicans for Bush's Iraq strategy are ''collapsing around them.'' The president and his aides had thought they could wait to begin discussions about any change in strategy after September 15, when the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, must present a much-anticipated report on Iraq's security and political progress.

But these aides acknowledge it appears that forces are converging against Bush just as the Senate prepares this week to begin what promises to be a contentious debate on the war's future and financing, the newspaper said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled a long-planned trip to Latin America to help prepare a report for the US Congress on the war yesterday, according to the Pentagon.

The administration must deliver an interim report to Congress by July 15 on Iraq. The report has gained significance as an increasing number of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers call for a change in Bush's strategy in Iraq.

Four more Republican senators, including Pete Domenici of New Mexico last week, have recently declared they can no longer support the strategy.

As a result, the newspaper said, aides are 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.

That strategy was proposed by the Iraq Study Group late last year, but the president rejected it.

September 15 looks like an end point for the debate, not a starting point, one administration official told the Times. ''Lots of people are concluding that the president has got to get out ahead of this train.'' The Times said Gates has been quietly pressing for halving the number of brigades patrolling the most violent sections of Baghdad and surrounding provinces by early next year.

The remaining combat units would take up the more limited mission of training Iraqi units, protecting Iraq's borders and taking on al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Sunni extremist group affiliated with Osama bin Laden.

Officials describe Stephen Hadley, the national security advisor, and Bush's longtime strategist Karl Rove as concerned the loss of Republicans could accelerate this week.

Of particular concern to the administration is what Sen John McCain of Arizona will say when he returns from Iraq.

McCain, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, has faced political troubles because of his support of the war, and there is speculation he may declare the Iraqi government incapable of the political accommodations the surge was supposed to permit, the Times said.



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