Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sen. Jeff Sessions, a prominent conservative and supporter of the war in Iraq, yesterday said lawmakers “have to be realistic” about the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq and most likely will begin withdrawing those new forces after September.

Mr. Sessions, Alabama Republican, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” yesterday that “by September, when General 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.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, made a similar statement last week. “The handwriting is on the wall,” he said. “We are headed in a different direction, in the fall, in Iraq. And the president is going to be the one to lead the way.”

Mr. Sessions said that “unless something extraordinary occurs,” a withdrawal was almost certain, adding that lawmakers “have to be realistic” about the progress being made. When asked whether he thinks President Bush would support such a strategy, Mr. Sessions said, “I think he is coming around to that.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, also appeared on “Face the Nation” and said he thinks Republican lawmakers will support a withdrawal of American forces after Gen. David H. Petraeus’ scheduled September report.

“Well, not only is he obviously beginning to make a move, I think, but more importantly is Republican leaders,” Mr. Levin said when asked about Mr. Sessions’ comments. “There’s going to be a change of direction in September. The handwriting is on the wall.”

However, the two lawmakers disagreed over the timeline for any such reduction. Mr. Sessions said the Iraqi government should be given the next few months as an opportunity to “step up,” while Mr. Levin said U.S. troops should start coming home now.

“This government in Iraq has got to step up. And we’ve got to be able to draw our troop levels down to be in a more supportive role, an embedding role, a training role,” Mr. Sessions said. “So the best solution is to get this Iraqi government up, get them to preserve their own integrity as a nation and to defend themselves. And that’s a very important thing to achieve.”

“Why wait until September? We’ve got men and women dying in Iraq right now. Why not make that change in course right now?” Mr. Levin said. “There is no evidence that the Iraqi politicians are making any progress toward that political solution. The whole purpose of this surge which the president announced was that it would give the Iraqis an opportunity to reach a political session. They have not done so.”

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