WASHINGTON -- Under election-year pressure to change course in Iraq, the Bush administration said yesterday there are no plans for dramatic shifts in policy or for ultimatums to Baghdad to force progress.
Just two weeks before the Nov. 7 elections that will determine whether Republicans retain control of Congress, the White House tried to calm political anxieties about deteriorating security in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are calling on President Bush to change his war plan.
"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said in an interview. US and Iraqi officials should be held accountable for the lack of progress, said Graham, a Republican who is a frequent critic of the administration's policies.
Asked who in particular should be held accountable -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps, or the generals leading the war -- Graham said: "All of them. It's their job to come up with a game plan" to end the violence.
Bush, in a CNBC interview, said, "Well, I've been talking about a change in tactics ever since I -- ever since we went in, because the role of the commander in chief is to say to our generals, `You adjust to the enemy on the battlefield.' "
Rumsfeld, in remarks at the Pentagon, said US government and military officials were working with Iraq to set broad time frames for when Iraqis can take over 16 provinces that are still under the control of US troops. He said officials were not talking about penalizing the Iraqis if they don't hit certain benchmarks.
In Iraq yesterday, militiamen loyal to an anti-American cleric reemerged in the southern city of Amarah, hunting down and killing four policemen from a rival militia in a brutal Shi'ite-on-Shi'ite settling of scores.
The Iraqi Army set up a few roadblocks but did not interfere in the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters after police fled the streets. The latest attacks occurred despite a public call by Sadr to halt the tribal vendetta, suggesting that splinter groups were developing within his militia.
The spread of revenge killings among Shi'ites in their southern heartland has opened a new and ominous front as American forces struggle to control insurgent and sectarian bloodshed to the north -- especially in Baghdad.
In the capital, the US military reported that a soldier was listed as missing last night. Residents said American forces sealed the central Karadah district and were conducting door-to-door searches.
The missing soldier is an Army translator, and the initial report is that he may have been abducted, said a military official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information was not cleared for release.
An employee at Baghdad's al-Furat TV, which was raided by American forces yesterday, said the US forces conducting the search told him they were looking for an abducted American officer of Iraqi descent.
The US military announced yesterday four new US deaths -- a Marine and three soldiers. So far this month, 87 American service members have been killed in Iraq.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced a military crackdown to tame the country's staggering armed violence, taking special aim at continuing lawlessness in Amarah.
But his statement, while notable for its timing, appeared toothless, especially given that his army was standing aside in Amarah and has fallen short of delivering troops requested by the Americans for the ongoing security crackdown in Baghdad.