WASHINGTON - Two top Republicans cast aside President Bush's pleas for patience on Iraq on Friday and proposed legislation demanding a new strategy by mid-October to restrict the mission of U.S. troops.
The proposal, by veteran GOP Sens. John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana, came as the Pentagon conceded a decreasing number of Iraqi battalions are able to operate on their own.
"American military and diplomatic strategy in Iraq must adjust to the reality that sectarian factionalism is not likely to abate anytime soon and probably cannot be controlled from the top," the Warner-Lugar proposal states.
Democrats and the White House were dismissive of the proposal. However, it could attract significant support from GOP colleagues who are frustrated by Iraq but reluctant to break ranks with their party or force the hand of a wartime president.
The two senators are considered the GOP's foremost national security experts. Warner was the longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee until stepping down last year, while Lugar is the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.
It would require Bush to submit by Oct. 16 a plan to "transition U.S. combat forces from policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" to a narrow set of missions: protecting Iraqi borders, targeting terrorists, protecting U.S. assets and training Iraqi forces.
The bill suggests the plan be ready for implementation by next year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid balked at the proposal because it would not require Bush to implement the strategy. He said he prefers legislation the Senate will vote on next week that would order combat troops to be out of Iraq by next spring.
Earlier Friday, Reid dismissed as too soft a separate proposal supported by several Republicans and Democrats that would require Bush to adopt the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, intended to pave the way for a 2008 withdrawal.
"If you give this president a choice, he will stay hunkered down in Iraq for years to come," Reid, D-Nev., said.
Bush spokesman Tony Fratto said the White House would review the Warner-Lugar measure. "But we believe the new way forward strategy - which became fully operational less than a month ago - deserves the time to succeed," he said.
In addition to requiring a new military strategy, the legislation calls on Bush to seek renewed authorization for the war, which Congress gave him in 2002. Many members contend that the authorization - which led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 - was limited to approval of deposing Saddam Hussein and searching for weapons of mass destruction.