A growing number of Republicans are suggesting a change of course in Iraq.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush told Iraq's prime minister Monday he has no plans to pull U.S. forces out of the war-torn country, in a conversation that underscored Iraqi worries that the president is being pressured to curtail America's role in the widely unpopular war.
In a 15-minute morning phone call, Bush told Nouri al-Maliki that rumors of a withdrawal of troops in two months were untrue and that the United States would stand strong with its new ally. But even as Bush reassured al-Maliki, he is having to confront growing doubts among Republicans in Congress about his war policies.
A small but growing group of GOP lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., have suggested a change in course may be necessary. Warner could provide political cover for other GOP members to challenge Bush on Iraq because he is normally a Bush loyalist and a respected leader on national security issues.
Also providing ammunition for lawmakers unhappy over Iraq -- and potential political cover -- should be recommendations expected by an independent commission after next month's congressional elections. Former GOP Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a leader of that panel, has said the group will recommend options for changing course in Iraq.
Findings by January
Leon Panetta, a member of the panel and President Clinton's former chief of staff, said the panel hopes to present Congress its findings by January. Among the options being considered are whether to set a timetable for withdrawal and whether to solicit help from Iran and Syria to stop the fighting, but "the study group has made no decisions," he said.
By then, there could be enough Republican defections to produce the biggest challenge yet by Congress to Bush's policy in Iraq -- even if the GOP retains control of the House and Senate.
"The war is a 100-pound albatross hanging on the necks of Republicans," said Norman Ornstein, a political scholar with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
A spike in American casualties in Iraq in recent weeks, as ethnic violence there spirals ever more out of control, has only served to increase the likelihood that Republicans will increasingly question Bush's policies in the war.
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