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The senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee is calling on President Bush to announce the beginning of a redeployment of troops from Iraq.
Today, Senator John Warner of Virginia called on the president to order 5,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq this fall, as Warner put it, in time for Christmas. Warner said the move would be intended to send a very clear signal that the U.S. is not there forever, and that the U.S. support for the current government in Iraq is not a blank check.
NPR's David Greene reports.
DAVID GREENE: Senator Warner is 80 years old, a former Marine and former Navy secretary who chooses his words carefully. And when he stepped to the podium today, he said he was not trying to step on President Bush.
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): I support the president in that I don't, for a minute, advocate any rapid pullout or any other type of action of that nature.
GREENE: But Warner says he's grown too frustrated with Iraq's young government and its failure to resolve its sectarian differences. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he said, made a promise to President Bush back in January that if the U.S. beefed up its forces, he would unify his government. Warner said President Bush made clear at the time that the U.S. military commitment was not open-ended, and Warner said today that Mr. Bush had to back up that statement. He said a good time to do that would be around September 15th when the U.S. commander, David Petraeus, is reporting to Congress on military progress in Iraq.
Sen. WARNER: Then if the president were to announce on the 15th, that in consultation with our senior military commanders, he's decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of our forces. I say to the president, respectfully, pick whatever number you wish. You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly in 160,000 plus, say, 5,000, could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.
GREENE: But as reporters asked questions, Warner kept adding caveats. He said he's not trying to force a timetable for the ending of U.S. involvement or even to change U.S. policy. He said he was merely advising the president that a first token withdrawal would be a good first step toward convincing the Iraqi government American patience was limited.
Warner returned last week from a visit to Iraq with his colleague, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan. Levin, after the trip, called for parliament to remove Maliki. Warner said he wasn't ready to go that far, but lack of progress by Iraq's government, Warner said, is driving frustration among U.S. lawmakers. Warner said seeing the new report available today from U.S. intelligence agencies regarding the lack of progress in Baghdad served to corroborate his own judgment and convinced him the time for action is now.
President Bush is vacationing in Texas. A spokesman traveling with him said Warner is a respected voice. He said Mr. Bush is waiting for General Petraeus' report next month, then the president will make decisions about the way ahead.
David Greene, NPR News, Washington.
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