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Boehner: GOP will want Iraq results

Times Staff Writer

A key Republican House leader said Sunday that if President Bush’s current strategy in Iraq is not working by fall, members of Congress will demand to know what the White House’s next plan is.

Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, said the troop buildup had shown some success and noted that it was not yet complete. But he embraced the idea of setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government and requiring Bush to assess the Iraqis’ progress on a monthly basis.

“Over the course of the next three months or four months, we’ll have some idea how well the plan is working,” Boehner told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “Early signs are indicating there is clearly some success on a number of fronts. But ... by the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B?”

Last week Democrats failed to override Bush’s veto of a $124-billion war funding bill that would have required troop withdrawals to begin by Oct. 1. But the comments from Boehner and other lawmakers suggested a line of possible compromise between Democrats and Republicans that would embrace a set of relatively weak benchmarks for the Baghdad government and delay the more far-reaching debate until fall.

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Bush and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, have promised a wide-ranging analysis of the strategy in September.

Many supporters of the buildup say that because the full complement of additional troops will not begin operations in Baghdad until June, the strategy will not show results until 2008.

But a growing number of Republicans are demanding a fuller evaluation. And military leaders have said privately that they know they need to show Washington concrete signs of progress by fall.

Appearing on CNN’s “Late Edition,” Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agreed with Boehner but said that even if there was another shift in U.S. strategy, the American military would still remain in Iraq for a long time.

“I think the congressman is correct,” Lugar said. “Gen. Petraeus will be back. He’ll make a report. Some things will go well. Some things will not go so well, but we’ll still have an obligation.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Boehner’s comments indicated that it might be possible to force a change in the Bush administration’s Iraq policy in the fall.

“We believe that the taste for continuing with the present course among Republicans in the Senate and the House is going to fade very quickly and we will get the change in mission,” said Schumer, also on CNN.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), a candidate for his party’s presidential nomination, said he believed there was a possibility for compromise between Democrats and Republicans.

“I think there are a growing number of Republicans in the Senate and the House as well who are very uneasy about the president’s policy here of no change, no benchmarks, no dates-certain here,” said Dodd, who appeared on Fox. “I think they’re beginning to move -- and nervous themselves because they’re hearing from their constituents as well.”

Boehner said he had long backed benchmarks and said they could help the Bush administration assess whether its strategies were working. But he rejected the idea that those benchmarks should be tied to funding.

“I’m for benchmarks that are for success,” he said. “I’m not for benchmarks with artificial timelines, yanking funds, trying to ensure that there’s failure in Iraq.”

But Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, renewed his call for Democrats not to compromise. Instead, he said, they should send Bush another bill demanding a pullout from Iraq.

“I think that America has asked the Democratic leadership in the Congress to stand firm, and that’s exactly what I’m saying they should do,” Edwards said on ABC’s “This Week.”

On CNN, Schumer suggested that attaching the troop pullout language to the current war funding resolution was unlikely but said Democrats would try again on other Pentagon spending bills this year.

julian.barnes@latimes.com


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