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Archive for Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dramatic change not in store for Iraq policy

October 24, 2006

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— Under election-year pressure to change course in Iraq, the Bush administration said Monday there are no plans for dramatic shifts in policy or for ultimatums to Baghdad to force progress.

Just two weeks before the Nov. 7 elections that will determine whether Republicans retain control of Congress, the White House tried to calm political anxieties about deteriorating security in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are calling on President Bush to change his war plan.

"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an Associated Press interview. U.S. and Iraqi officials should be held accountable for the lack of progress, said Graham, a Republican who is a frequent critic of the administration's policies.

Asked who in particular should be held accountable - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps, or the generals leading the war - Graham said: "All of them. It's their job to come up with a game plan" to end the violence.

Rumsfeld, in remarks at the Pentagon, said U.S. government and military officials were working with Iraq to set broad time frames for when Iraqis can take over 16 provinces that are still under the control of U.S. troops. He said officials were not talking about penalizing the Iraqis if they don't hit certain benchmarks.

The Iraqis have taken control of two southern provinces but have been slow to take the lead in others, particularly those around Baghdad and in the volatile regions north and west of the capital city. Rumsfeld said specific target dates probably will not be set. Instead, he said there might be a broader time frame - such as a one- to three-month window - for the Iraqis to take control of certain provinces.

Rumsfeld visited the White House early Monday with Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld said the United States was looking at when the Iraqis would move close to setting up a reconciliation process to help quell worsening sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the United States was continually adjusting its strategy in Iraq.

"In that sense there are new things going on. But are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is no," Snow said.

"There is still a very large to-do list before Iraq is in a position to sustain, govern and defend itself. Are we issuing ultimatums? No."

He acknowledged, however, that Bush no longer is saying that the United States will "stay the course" in Iraq.

"He stopped using it," Snow said of that phrase, adding that it left the impression that the administration was not adjusting its strategy to realities in Baghdad.

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