Sen. Domenici Becomes Latest Defection On Unpopular War

Thursday, July 5th 2007, 5:17 pm
By: News On 6

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ Sen. Pete Domenici on Thursday withdrew his support of President Bush's Iraq war policy and embraced instead a proposal to bring home most troops by next March.

The longtime New Mexico senator is the latest of several Republican stalwarts who have abandoned Bush on Iraq in the past 10 days, calling for a change sooner rather than later and further isolating Bush in his attempt to defend the deeply unpopular war.

Last week, Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said the U.S. should significantly downsize its military presence in Iraq while beefing up diplomatic efforts. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is expected to propose legislation this month calling for a new approach.

``I have carefully studied the Iraq situation and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward,'' said Dominici, who was elected in 1972 and is now a senior member of a panel that oversees defense spending.

``I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops,'' Domenici said. ``But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home.''

At a news conference, Domenici said parents of those killed in Iraq previously told him that the United States should stay in Iraq as long as it takes. Now, he said, some parents have asked him to do more to bring the troops home sooner.

Domenici _ who said he has not talked to the Bush administration about his call for a shift in strategy _ said things are getting worse, not better, in Iraq.

The senator said he now supports a bipartisan Senate bill that embraces the findings of the independent Iraq Study Group. In December, the group said the primary mission of U.S. troops should evolve to supporting Iraqi security forces. The report also said the United States should reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress.

Ultimately, the panel wrote, combat troops could be out by March 2008 if specific steps were taken.

Also backed by Sens. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Ken Salazar, D-Colo., the bill would make most of the group's findings official U.S. policy.

Bush has been losing GOP support for his decision in January to send 30,000 extra troops to Iraq to secure Baghdad and Anbar province. Last weekend, the president called for patience as U.S. forces conduct stepped-up operations.

The White House had thought it had until September, when military commanders are to give an assessment of Iraq. But as the public grows increasingly frustrated with the war and the 2008 elections have grown closer, political pressure has increased. Most senators now believe troops should start coming home within the next few months, and House Republicans want to revive the independent Iraq Study Group to review its findings.

When Bush announced his plan in January to send more troops to Iraq, Domenici said he was willing to give the plan a chance. But he added that his support would be based on whether the Iraqi government would meet its obligations under the plan.

``It is the Iraqi government that is failing to make even modest progress to help Iraq itself or to merit the sacrifices being made by our men and women in uniform,'' Domenici said. ``I am unwilling to continue our current strategy.''