Video: Key GOP Senators draft Iraq plan

updated 7/13/2007 5:25:26 PM ET 2007-07-13T21:25:26

Two prominent Senate Republicans have drafted legislation that would require President Bush to come up with a plan by mid-October to dramatically narrow the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The legislation, which represents a sharp challenge to Bush, was put forward Friday by Sens. John Warner and Richard Lugar, and it came as the Pentagon acknowledged that a decreasing number of Iraqi army battalions are able to operate independently of U.S. troops.

"Given continuing high levels of violence in Iraq and few manifestations of political compromise among Iraq's factions, the optimal outcome in Iraq of a unified, pluralist, democratic government that is able to police itself, protect its borders, and achieve economic development is not likely to be achieved in the near future," the Warner-Lugar proposal said.

Defying the president
The White House responded to word of the Warner-Lugar measure Friday afternoon in a written statement saying, "We respect  Senators Warner and Lugar and will review carefully the language they have proposed, but we believe the new way forward strategy -- which became fully operational less than a month ago -- deserves the time to succeed.  We look forward to hearing from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in September."

Bush has asked Congress to hold off on demanding a change in the course of the war until September, when the top U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, delivers a fresh assessment of its progress.

Warner, R-Va., and Lugar, R-Ind., are well regarded within Congress on defense issues. Warner was the longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee before stepping down last year, while Lugar is the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The Warner-Lugar proposal states that "American military and diplomatic strategy in Iraq must adjust to the reality that sectarian factionalism is not likely to abate anytime soon and probably cannot be controlled from the top."

Accordingly, Warner and Lugar say Bush must draft a plan for U.S. troops that would keep them from "policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" and focus them instead on protecting Iraq's borders, targeting terrorists and defending U.S. assets.

Iraqi preparedness down
At the Pentagon, meanwhile, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the number of battle-ready Iraqi battalions able to fight on their own has dropped to a half-dozen from 10 in recent months despite heightened American training efforts.

Video: Bush defends his policy on Iraq

Without providing numbers, the White House had acknowledged in its report to Congress Thursday that not enough progress was being made in training Iraqi security forces -- an issue that determines to a large extent when the United States may be able to reduce its forces there.

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Pace, however, also said the readiness of the Iraqi fighting units was not an issue to be "overly concerned" about because the problem is partly attributable to the fact that the Iraq units are out operating in the field.

Appearing at a news conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Pace said that "as units operate in the field, they have casualties, they consume vehicles and equipment."

The Warner-Lugar proposal is the first major legislative challenge to Bush's Iraq policy endorsed by the two senators -- and lent a more bipartisan imprint to congressional dissatisfaction with the war now in its fifth year.

Earlier this year, both Lugar and Warner expressed grave doubts about Bush's decision to send 30,000 extra troops to Iraq. But both have been reluctant to back binding legislation that would force the president's hand.

The legislation would direct Bush to present the new strategy to Congress by Oct. 16 and suggests it be ready for implementation by Dec. 31.

The proposal also would seek to make Bush renew the authorization for war that Congress gave him in 2002. Many members contend that authorization -- which led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- was limited to approval of deposing dictator Saddam Hussein and searching for weapons of mass destruction.

Video: Rice discusses Iraq, other Mideast issues Rice asks for patience
Also Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exhorted congressional critics of Iraq war policy Friday to give the Bush administration and the fledgling government in Baghdad until September to “make a coherent judgment of where we are.”

“But we shouldn’t just dismiss as inconsequential the progress that they have made,” the secretary said.

Interviewed on NBC's TODAY show, Rice said the administration would have preferred greater success, but she hailed “progress on — particularly — some of the security benchmarks.”

Rice called Maliki “a man who wants to do the right thing for his country,” adding that he was “not the only factor here.” She said other Iraqi leaders and “power brokers” needed to make greater efforts to stem the violence.

Yet Rice also argued that Baghdad has made headway in lowering the level of sectarian violence, pointing to “something that isn’t even on that benchmark list — the tremendous change in al Anbar province, where you have the sheiks, the local people, taking back their streets from al-Qaida.”

In still another development Friday, Bush's top spokesman appeared resigned to the fact that the Iraqi parliament is going to take August off, even though it has just eight weeks to show progress on military, political and other benchmarks designated by the United States.

However, Tony Snow said, "Let's also see what happens because quite often when parliaments do not meet, they are also continuing meetings on the side. And there will be progress, I'm sure on a number of fronts."

Benchmarks and consequences
The fast-moving developments capped another stressful week for Bush and administration figures who have been resisting attempts by majority Democrats in Congress to force a U.S. troop withdrawal. The administration sent to the Hill an interim progress report Thursday which said that only about half of some 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for improvements in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been accomplished.

Earlier Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exhorted congressional critics to give the administration and the fledgling government until September to "make a coherent judgment of where we are."

On the morning after the House voted 223-201 for a Democratic proposal to force a U.S. troop withdrawal by next spring, she acknowledged that al-Maliki's government hasn't achieved "as much progress as we would like. But we shouldn't just dismiss as inconsequential the progress that they have made."

And Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, a top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters in a separate news conference via video linkup from Iraq that "there will be consequences" if U.S. troops withdraw too soon.

Mixon spoke of a troop drawdown that would be smaller and slower than Democrats envision.

"It needs to be well thought out," he said of any plans to drawn down forces. "It cannot be a strategy that is based on 'Well, we need to leave.' That's not a strategy, that's a withdrawal."

Congressional Democrats, who have said the war was draining U.S. assets from the fight against al-Qaida, moved earlier Friday to highlight what they see as a major failure in Bush's war on terror: the inability to bring Osama bin Laden to justice.

The Senate voted 87-1 in favor of doubling the reward to $50 million for information leading to his capture. The bill also would require regular classified reports from the administration explaining what steps it's taking to find bin Laden.

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