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White House Denies Debating Troop Withdrawal

Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush has no plans to withdraw troops from Iraq now, the White House said on Monday, despite increasing pressure from members of his own Republican party for a change in war strategy.

The New York Times reported on Monday that debate was intensifying inside the White House over whether Bush should try to prevent more Republican defections by announcing intentions for a gradual withdrawal of troops from high-casualty Iraqi areas. 0709 08

"There is no debate right now on withdrawing forces right now from Iraq," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

The Times said officials fear the last pillars of political support among U.S. Senate Republicans for Bush's Iraq strategy were collapsing.

"The president has said many times, that as conditions required and merit, that there will be, in fact, withdrawals and also a pulling back from areas of Baghdad and so on," Snow said.

"But the idea of trying to make a political judgment rather than a military judgment about how to have forces in the field is simply not true," he said.

The administration is compiling an interim report to deliver to Congress by Sunday on Bush's strategy in which he sent thousands of additional troops to Iraq.

The report has gained significance as an increasing number of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers call for a change in Bush's strategy for the unpopular war.

Snow called the July report a "first snapshot" and described the president's strategy as still in its early stages because it took time for the "surge" to become fully operational. The report will not discuss any timetable for withdrawal, he said.

"This is not a midpoint of operations in Baghdad, but really the very beginning," Snow said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman also tried to temper expectations about the report, saying it was only recently that Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, had the full capability he had sought to conduct operations in Iraq.

"I don't think that anyone would expect all the benchmarks to be met or achieved at the front end of the surge operations," Whitman said.

Bush's public opinion ratings are at the lows of his presidency amid discontent over the Iraq war where sectarian violence results in almost daily bloodshed.

The White House played down the much-anticipated September 15 report, when Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, must present an assessment on Iraq's security and political progress.

"Nor do we think that it is accurate to think that September 15th is the drop dead date and everything should be completed," Snow said.

The Senate is preparing this week to begin what is likely to be a contentious debate on the war's future and financing, and four more Republican senators recently declared they can no longer support the president's strategy.

Additional reporting by Andrew Gray

© Reuters 2007.

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