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Senator Says U.S. Should Rethink Iraq Strategy

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 — The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee warned Thursday that the situation in Iraq was “drifting sideways” and said that the United States should consider a “change of course” if violence did not diminish soon.

The chairman, Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, expressed particular concern that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had not moved decisively against sectarian militias.

“In two or three months if this thing hasn’t come to fruition and this level of violence is not under control, I think it’s a responsibility of our government to determine: Is there a change of course we should take?” Senator Warner said.

He did not specify what shift might be necessary in Iraq, but he said that the American military had done what it could to stabilize Iraq and that no policy options should be taken “off the table.” He was speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference after returning from a Middle East trip that included a one-day visit to Baghdad.

His comments underscored the growing misgivings of even senior Republicans about the situation in Iraq. They also appeared to be a warning to the Bush administration that it might have to consider different approaches after the November midterm elections.

Mr. Warner, whose term as chairman expires at the end of the year, said he hoped his committee would be able to hold hearings in November on policy options recommended by an independent panel, led by former Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

Mr. Warner said the idea of partitioning Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines would have “very serious consequences,” and he refused to endorse the idea of setting a timetable for a phased withdrawal of American troops.

In a separate news conference, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee, said he told Iraqi officials during the trip that he favored setting a date for a drawdown of troops.

Mr. Levin described a plan that Mr. Maliki announced Monday to increase security in Baghdad as “very tenuous.” The plan has no provisions for disarming sectarian militias, he said.

Mr. Levin added that the American ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, had told him during the trip that such warnings were a “useful message” to send to Mr. Maliki, though the administration had not endorsed the idea.

“I think the time is coming when the administration is going to deliver that message,” he said, “because it’s the only way, I believe, to change the dynamic in Iraq.”

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