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GOP leaders press Bush for Iraq plan

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Two prominent Republican senators yesterday introduced legislation that calls on President Bush to create a new plan for U.S. troops in Iraq by mid-October and asks the administration to again seek congressional authorization for the war.

The proposal by Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana requests a blueprint for drawing down or redeploying U.S. forces in Iraq by Dec. 31, and comes as the Democrat-led Congress has renewed its attack on Mr. Bush"s war policy.

"The [recent troop] surge must not be an excuse for failing to prepare for the next phase of our involvement in Iraq, whether that is withdrawal, redeployment, or some other option," said Mr. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee who recently has begun to question Mr. Bush"s tactics.

"We saw in 2003, after the initial invasion of Iraq, the disastrous results of failing to plan adequately for contingencies."

Democratic leaders immediately dismissed the proposal as too weak because it does not mandate that the president fulfill the obligations. But it may generate support among Republicans seeking a way to provide Mr. Bush more time.

Mr. Warner and Mr. Lugar "put a lot of faith in the president — that he will voluntarily change course and voluntarily begin to reduce the large U.S. combat footprint in Iraq," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Mr. Reid supports legislation the Senate will vote on next week that would order combat troops to be out of Iraq by next spring — a measure similar to one soundly defeated less than two months ago. Republicans predict it will fail again.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the Warner-Lugar plan would be reviewed carefully.

"But we believe the new way forward strategy — which became fully operational less than a month ago — deserves the time to succeed," he said, referring to a U.S. troop buildup that began early this year to secure Baghdad from sectarian violence.

The Warner-Lugar amendment to the Senate's $649 billion defense authorization bill — the vehicle Democrats are using in another legislative run at altering Mr. Bush's Iraq policy — gives Mr. Bush until after Gen. David H. Petraeus' September progress report to reconsider his policy.

The White House this week dispatched its top war advisers to Capitol Hill to embolden Republican allies as it asked for the public and lawmakers to give its troop surge strategy until at least September to show progress.

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved a measure to double the bounty for the capture of Osama bin Laden to $50 million, reflecting concerns among intelligence experts that al Qaeda is poised for new attacks.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on several morning television talk shows yesterday, said that although U.S. forces have wiped out al Qaeda training grounds in Afghanistan, intelligence agencies increasingly are intercepting "chatter" that the terrorist network may be strengthening, particularly in tribal Pakistan and the al Anbar province of Iraq.

"Some things have changed, if you are al Qaeda, I guess, that have made the organization stronger," said Miss Rice on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" program. "Yeah, I'm concerned — I think that we're seeing a lot of chatter."

The Democrats' amendment to the Senate's defense authorization bill passed 87-1. Proposed by North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, it highlights the administration's failure to capture the mastermind of the September 11 attacks in nearly six years. Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky voted against it.

It also requires Miss Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to report to Congress on any progress made in capturing bin Laden.

Miss Rice said that improved international surveillance networks, as well as strong cooperation from the Pakistani government and military, are putting increased pressure on al Qaeda.

"We obviously have ways to track and surveil terrorists that we did not have prior to September 11th," she said. "I think we have better cooperation between domestic agencies and foreign agencies. But yes, it's a time when we have to be exceedingly vigilant."

Congress this week introduced several proposals seeking to alter the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq.

On Thursday the House passed a bill to withdraw most troops from Iraq in April by a vote of 223-201. The measure fell well shy of the votes needed to override a promised veto and picked up only two new Republicans in the three months since a similar vote. Republicans voted 191-4 against it.

Ten Democrats voted against it, four fewer than in March.

A day earlier, a measure in the Senate to set a minimum length for rest time for troops between deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan garnered a 56-41 majority, four votes shy of the needed 60.

Another key vote expected next week is a proposal in the Senate to withdraw the majority of troops from Iraq by April 30, 2008.

c This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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