WASHINGTON — A conservative Republican senator who has ranked among President Bush's staunchest supporters said Sunday that he and most other lawmakers expect a reduction in the number of troops in Iraq come September, once the top U.S. commander in the region delivers his report on the war.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the reversal was all but inevitable. But he said Congress would wait for Army Gen. David H. Petraeus' report evaluating the current troop increase, designed to curb sectarian violence in Baghdad.
"By September, when Gen. Petraeus is to make a report, I think most of the people in Congress believe, unless something extraordinary occurs, that we should be on a move to draw those surge numbers down," Sessions said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"We have to know that we can't achieve everything we'd like to achieve," he said.
"I don't think we need to be an occupying power," the senator said. "This is a fine line we've walked, and this surge has got to be temporary."
In January, President Bush ordered 21,500 additional combat troops and thousands of support personnel sent to Iraq. An estimated 146,000 American troops are on the ground.
In the past, Sessions has opposed Democratic efforts to impose timetables for U.S. troop levels in Iraq.
His latest remarks echoed a statement by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said Friday that he expected the president to go in a different direction this fall.
On the same program, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), questioned the need to wait for Petraeus' report before starting to bring U.S. troops home.
"Why wait until September?" Levin asked. "We've got men and women dying in Iraq right now."