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Bush Plans To Stress Next Phase In Iraq War

President Bush plans to lay out what an aide called
President Bush plans to lay out what an aide called "his vision for the post-surge" to assure the nation that he wants to eventually begin bringing troops home from Iraq and move toward a more limited mission. (By Carolyn Kaster -- Associated Press)

Hadley and Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the president's new Iraq war coordinator, met yesterday with Warner, a skeptic of the president's war policy who will manage the Republican side of debates over Iraq proposals. Afterward, Warner said he would defer making his own proposals until he hears the president report publicly this week.

War-funding legislation passed in May mandated two progress reports from the White House, the first due on Sunday and the second Sept. 15. The July report originally was seen as a midterm assessment, with the real stakes lying in the fall report by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, the top military and civilian officials in Iraq, who will testify before Congress.

But the absence of much visible progress in Iraq and a rise in public and congressional opposition mean that "July has become the new September," in the words of one official. Virtually the entire national security bureaucracy on Iraq -- including the intelligence agencies, State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council -- is involved in putting together this week's report and Bush's statement on it, which should be released by Friday.

Senior administration and military officials closely involved in Iraq policy have indicated that the Iraqis are unlikely to meet any of the security and political goals Bush set for them when he announced his new strategy Jan. 10. Those goals, including provincial elections, new power-sharing arrangements among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups and increased responsibility for Iraqi security forces, were incorporated as mandatory benchmarks in the war-funding legislation.

One of the intellectual authors of Bush's troop increase dismissed the importance of such goals. "I always thought those were unreasonable benchmarks," Frederick W. Kagan, a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute, said at a forum yesterday. "I always thought it was a mistake for the administration to go down that road."

Kagan and another surge supporter, retired Army Gen. John Keane, said the extra troops, the last of whom arrived just weeks ago, are having an impact and should be allowed to stay long enough to make it last. "In my judgment, the security situation is making steady, deliberate progress," Keane said. But he said that to succeed, "the operation has to continue into '08."

Although it initially envisioned a troop increase lasting six to eight months, the administration lately has anticipated keeping the extra troops in place until next spring and then beginning to pull them back, one brigade at a time. Logistically, senior military officials have said, it would be extremely difficult to sustain such a force in Iraq beyond March or April. Bush has said he wanted to then shift to a more limited mission and presence. But amid all the debate, said one aide, "the argument has been lost of late," which is why the president plans to make a new sustained effort to talk about it this week.

"What the president has said all along is, of course, we're going to draw down," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. "But you have to draw down when it makes sense to do so. And furthermore, what he said is, 'Everybody, take a look first at what's going on.' "

Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.

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