updated 10/11/2006 6:07:12 PM ET 2006-10-11T22:07:12

President Bush said Wednesday he was open to adjusting U.S. strategy on Iraq after two senior Republicans suggested there were alternatives to his policy, described by critics as "stay-the-course."

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The Iraq war has dragged down the popularity of Bush and his party before the Nov. 7 elections in which Republican control of Congress is at stake and Democrats have called for a new direction.

Although polls show the public is growing increasingly skeptical of U.S. involvement and fear Iraq -- where as many as 100 civilians die each day -- is descending into civil war, Bush has insisted the United States will not leave until Iraqis can take over their own security.

There's flexibility
"For those folks saying make sure there's flexibility, I couldn't agree more with you," Bush said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden.

He spoke after Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia said the situation in Iraq was "drifting sideways," and James Baker, a former secretary of state with long ties to the Bush family and co-chair of a bipartisan panel reviewing Iraq policy, said alternatives other than "stay the course" and what Bush calls the Democrats' "cut-and-run" plan may be needed.

About 2,750 American troops have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003. A team of American and Iraqi public health experts calculated that about 655,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent violence, an estimate Bush said was "not credible."

Bush said if military commanders determined a new strategy was required, he would support it and that tactics were constantly changing. He said the characterization of his policy as "stay-the-course" was not fully accurate.

Depends on what 'stay the course' means
"Stay the course means keep doing what you're doing. My attitude is, don't do what you're doing if it's not working -- change," Bush said. "Stay the course also means don't leave before the job is done. We're going to get the job done in Iraq."

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat defeated by Bush in the 2004 election, said the president was wrong on Iraq. "Every day we continue the president's failed stay-the-course strategy is another day we play into the hands of the terrorists. We must change course in Iraq," he said.

Democrats say recommended changes to Iraq policy from Baker's group, expected after the election, may offer the White House a political way out of the current conduct of the Iraq war.

Warner, after a visit to Iraq, said last week the next three months would be critical.

If the Iraqi government was unable to reduce the killings and point to a clear direction out of the current situation, "then I think we have to make some bold decisions here in our country," but in a way to ensure Iraq does not fall into the hands of terrorists, Warner said.

Bush interpreted Warner's message as meaning that if the current plan is not working, "America needs to adjust. I completely agree."

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