updated 10/6/2006 10:45:37 AM ET 2006-10-06T14:45:37

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a Bush loyalist offered his darkest assessment of Iraq yet on Thursday, suggesting the war there was “drifting sideways” without a firm commitment from its government to disarm militias and rebuild the country.

Returning from a recent trip to the region, Sen. John Warner said the military had done what it could, and if after three months the Iraqis have made no progress to calm ethnic violence and hasten reconstruction, then Congress will have to make some “bold decisions.”

Warner did not say what he thinks Congress should do but said all options will be considered. Lawmakers have suggested various remedies, including a timetable to pull out U.S. troops and dividing the country into smaller, independent ethnic states.

“There is progress being made in certain areas,” Warner said, but “you just find that so many communities don’t even have drinking water. ... It seems to me that the situation is simply drifting sideways.”

Growing misgivings among Republicans
While Warner has expressed grave worries about Iraq in the past, his description of a nation hobbled by violent ethnic killings and an ineffective government was his most pessimistic yet. It underscored growing misgivings among Republicans facing elections in November that will decide whether their party maintain control of Congress. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 in the Senate are being decided, and Democrats could win the House with a pickup of 15 seats and the Senate by gaining six.

Facing dismal approval ratings for the Iraq effort in opinion polls, Republicans have become increasingly less reticent to suggest that President George W. Bush should change course. Most recently, House moderate Republican Chris Shays urged Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign.

Warner’s suggestion that the Iraqi government be given a deadline to settle its inner differences echoed a message delivered this week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She said the security situation was “not one that can be tolerated, and it is not one that is being helped by political inaction.”

Pressure on the Iraqi government comes as both U.S. casualties and ethnic killings in Iraq are on the rise.

Warner said he sees the next 60 to 90 days as most critical yet in the war because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki finally is growing into the job and says he is committed to disarming militias.

U.S. generals in Iraq have refused to speculate when U.S. troops might be able to come home. Warner said he was told on his latest trip that, at the earliest, U.S. and Iraqi forces may have an agreement at the end of this year outlining when and how responsibility could begin to be transferred to the Iraqis.

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