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Pacific edition, Saturday, August 25, 2007

WASHINGTON — A key Senate Republican on Thursday called on President Bush to start planning the withdrawal of troops from Iraq as a symbolic move to force Iraqi lawmakers to assume more responsibility for the security of their country.

Virginia’s John Warner, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, proposed a small redeployment of troops before the end of the year, to be announced with next month’s report on the status of forces in Iraq.

“You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly with 160,000-plus troops, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their loved ones by Christmas,” he told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference.

“I think it sends a strong message, that the United States means it when it says, ‘We didn’t come here to stay.’”

Warner, who recently returned from a three-day trip of Iraq and Kuwait, said decisions on which units, where and when they would move should fall to Pentagon officials. He still opposes any action by Congress to force those withdrawals.

Earlier this week his Democratic counterpart, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan, called on Iraqi lawmakers to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for creating a “nonfunctional and sectarian” government that has failed to broker agreements on issues like oil revenue sharing and power sharing.

Warner said while he is disappointed with political progress in Iraq, he saw signs that al-Maliki and other leaders might be nearing compromises on critical security issues, and is not ready to call for new leadership.

But he did say that even a small withdrawal could serve as an important warning to Iraqi lawmakers that U.S. patience is not unlimited.

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