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The Nation

2 GOP senators back troop reduction in Iraq

Their support further indicates party's unease about Bush's strategy.

June 08, 2007|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In another sign that congressional Republicans are losing patience with the White House war strategy, two GOP senators Thursday got behind new legislation designed to encourage the Bush administration to reduce U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Gordon Smith of Oregon are cosponsoring a nonbinding resolution by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) that urges decentralizing the Iraqi government and creating semiautonomous regions for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Biden has been championing the plan for more than a year.

That comes a day after five GOP senators signed on to separate legislation that would enact the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which envisioned most U.S. combat troops coming home by early 2008.

That legislation -- proposed by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) -- has the backing of several GOP loyalists, including Sens. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Robert F. Bennett of Utah.

Neither bill sets a firm deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, a key demand of antiwar Democrats, who have fought for months to force Republican lawmakers and the White House to accept such a plan.

Democratic congressional leaders were forced to temporarily abandon that approach last month after President Bush, backed by Republicans, vetoed an emergency war spending bill that contained a withdrawal timeline.

Bush has said more time is needed for his troop buildup to reduce violence and pave the way for a political settlement of the sectarian differences blamed for much of the violence in Iraq. The administration has promised a progress report by September.

But Republican support on Capitol Hill for alternative strategies may indicate that the White House will have to shift its own Iraq plans more quickly.

The administration in the past has spurned both the Iraq Study Group and the Biden proposals, though recently the president has spoken more favorably about the group's recommendations.

Biden's plan, which he outlined in May 2006 with Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, envisions a reduction of U.S. forces early next year as Iraq is decentralized and substantial authority is devolved to the country's ethnic regions.

On Thursday, Biden said the president still "clings to a fatally flawed notion ... that the Iraqis will rally behind a strong central government that keeps the country together and protects the rights of all faction."

"Simply put," Biden continued, "Iraq cannot be run from the center absent a dictator or foreign occupation. If we want the country to hold together and find stability, we have to make federalism work."

Brownback agreed Thursday, calling the so-called federalism plan "the only political solution that works."

Biden acknowledges that his plan could require a long-term, though much reduced, U.S. military presence in Iraq, much as U.S. troops have helped keep peace among once-warring ethnic communities in the Balkans.

That did not trouble Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the staunchest advocates for withdrawing American troops from Iraq and a cosponsor of the Biden resolution. "Even those of us who have been

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noam.levey@latimes.com

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