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Bush urged to press Iraq to end strife

Lawmakers want more progress on thwarting militias

WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats urged the White House yesterday to increase the pressure on Iraq's prime minister to crush militias blamed for the rising bloodshed.

President Bush expressed unwavering confidence in Nouri al-Maliki's ability to clamp down on the sectarian violence. Yet continued instability and rising casualties have led to calls, growing louder as the Nov. 7 elections near, for Bush to overhaul his war plan.

"I don't believe that a shift in tactics ought to wait until after the election," said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"There are too many casualties there," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "If we have a better course, we ought to adopt it sooner rather than later."

Two US troops were killed in fighting, the military said yesterday, raising the death toll to at least 80 in October, the highest of any month this year. The overall US death toll has surpassed 2,780.

Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Bush administration's Iraq policy was a failure. "What we have is a situation where this government over the last few months is deteriorating," Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, said on CNN.

While agreeing that Maliki is the best leader to support in Iraq now, lawmakers from both parties said he must do more to find a political solution between warring Shi'ite and Sunni sects, or peace will remain out of reach.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Bush said that in his judgment, "Maliki has got what it takes to lead a unity government." But the president noted the urgency the new government faces to stop the killing.

"I'm patient. I'm not patient forever, and I'm not patient with dawdling," Bush said. "But I recognize the degree of difficulty of the task, and therefore, say to the American people, we won't cut and run."

Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts said a political rather than military solution is needed.

"Either they resolve the political differences within this year, because they want to or they don't want to. If they don't want to, there's nothing American troops can do," Kerry said on "This Week."

Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said setting a withdrawal timetable could leave a security vacuum that terrorists would fill. But Warner, Republican of Virginia, has said a change in course may be necessary if the security situation does not improve .

He urged the Iraqi prime minister to give the Iraqi army more authority to improve security. "It is their job, not the US coalition forces' to subdue and get rid of these private militias," Warner said.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the leading Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration must pressure the Iraqis to make political compromises. "If they don't want to do that, if they're going to have a civil war, we have to tell them, `You're going to do that without us,' " Levin said.

In a separate development yesterday, American diplomat Alberto Fernandez apologized for saying US policy in Iraq displayed "arrogance" and "stupidity." A day after his remarks were broadcast by the satellite channel Al-Jazeera, Fernandez issued a statement saying he misspoke and his words represented "neither my views nor those of the State Department."

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