Democrats, who won control of the U.S. Congress, said on Sunday they will push to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq in the next few months but the White House cautioned against fixing timetables.
The Iraqi government must be told that U.S. presence is “not open-ended,” said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat expected to be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the new Congress that convenes in January.
“We need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months,” Levin said on ABC’s “This Week.”
President Bush has insisted that U.S. troops would not leave until Iraqis can take over security, and has repeatedly rejected setting a timetable for withdrawal.
The White House, however, said that Bush is open to new ideas and the president will meet on Monday with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which is considering alternative approaches.
More than 2,840 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the unpopular war was key in last week’s elections which swept Bush’s Republican Party from power in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“We need to redeploy,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”
That decision should be made by military officers in Iraq, he said. “And I think it should start within the next few months.”
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican considering another run for president, said setting a date for withdrawal “will lead to chaos in the region” and that more troops might be required for stability.
“I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this but they all require the presence of additional troops,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said any change in policy must ensure Iraq can succeed as a democracy and that would be difficult on a fixed timetable.
“The president obviously wants to take a whole fresh look at what we’re doing in Iraq,” Bolten said on CBS. “Nobody is happy with what our situation in Iraq is now.”
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, is conducting a review of Iraq strategy at the Pentagon, and other national security agencies will do similar reviews.
The Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker, a former secretary of state with close ties to the Bush family, will not have its final report when it meets with Bush.
Study Group to gather viewpoints
Instead, the panel was expected to gather the views of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Stephen Hadley, the White House national security adviser, at Monday’s meeting.
“The president looks forward to meeting with the Iraq Study Group and sharing his thoughts, and discussing with them, on the way forward in Iraq,” said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
One approach reportedly considered by that panel was for Washington to open a dialogue with Iran and Syria, accused by the Bush administration of supporting terrorism and fanning instability in neighboring Iraq.
Democrats are calling for an international conference on Iraq that would include Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.
“Well, nothing is off the table. All of the options will be considered,” Bolten said on CNN’s “Late Edition” about the conference proposal.
Bush chose a member of the Iraq Study Group, former CIA Director Robert Gates, to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The nomination requires Senate approval.