WASHINGTON — Former presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry on Monday renewed calls for a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2006, calling operations there “a misdirection for the real war on terror.”

The comments came just a day after the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, hinted at the possibility of troop drawdowns over the next six months, if progress with Iraq’s new government and security forces continue.

President Bush on Monday reacted to those comments following a strategy session at Camp David with military commanders on how to proceed in Iraq, reiterating that troops decisions “will be based upon the conditions on the ground.”

“And whatever we do will be toward a strategy of victory,” he told members of the press corps. “This is a process of getting to … understand the Iraqi capabilities, particularly the command and control structure, and what we need to do to help them achieve victory.

But Kerry, D-Mass., called that wait-and-see approach a failed strategy that will only hurt the long-term odds of success for U.S. forces.

“If you agree on a [withdrawal] schedule with the new government, you help to legitimize them and undermine the insurgency,” he said. “A continued large American presence there only delays the willingness of Iraqis to stand up for themselves.”

His legislation, an amendment to next year’s defense authorization bill, would allow military commanders to maintain a “over-the-horizon military presence” to support the Iraqi security forces if needed.

“But to just say ‘we’re going to be there as long as it takes,’ that’s the way you empower the terrorists,” he said.

The legislation also calls for Bush to convene a worldwide summit on Iraq’s future, to include representatives from neighboring countries, such as Syria and Iran.

Kerry also said that the large troop presence in Iraq is working against anti-terror efforts elsewhere in the world, noting that “the real war on terror is in Afghanistan and Pakistan, against al-Qaida, and it’s being misled by the current strategy in Iraq.”

His pull-out plan gained support from congressional Democrats, notably Iraq war critic Rep. John Murtha, R-Pa. Both the House and Senate are scheduled to debate the U.S. role in Iraq this week.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now