- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. commander in the Middle East warned Congress Wednesday against setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, putting him at odds with resurgent Democrats pressing President Bush to start pulling out of the violence-torn country.

Gen. John Abizaid spoke as the Senate Armed Services Committee began re-examining U.S. policy in the wake of last week’s elections, which gave Democrats control of Congress starting next year and was widely seen as a repudiation of the administration’s war policies.

Democrats have been coalescing around a call for beginning a U.S. withdrawal in coming months. In arguing against a timetable for troop withdrawals, Abizaid told the committee that he and other commanders need flexibility in managing U.S. forces and determining how and when to pass on responsibility to Iraqi forces.

“Specific timetables limit that flexibility,” Abizaid said.

Asked directly what effect he foresaw on sectarian violence if Congress legislated a phased U.S. withdrawal starting in four to six months, Abizaid replied, “I believe it would increase.”

“It seems to me that the prudent course ahead is to keep the troop levels about where they are,” Abizaid said, while placing larger teams of U.S. military advisers inside Iraqi army and police units. He said that increased emphasis on advising Iraqi units might be accomplished without significantly increasing the total U.S. force in the country.

With voters expressing overwhelming opposition to the war, Bush the day after the election expressed a willingness to consider fresh approaches to Iraq policy and announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had become a symbol of the unpopular war.

Even some Republicans on the Senate panel voiced a measure of frustration at the long and costly war in Iraq.


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