WASHINGTON -- A conservative Republican senator who has ranked among President Bush's staunchest supporters said yesterday that he and most other lawmakers expect a reduction in the number of troops in Iraq come September, once the top U.S. commander in the region delivers his report on the war.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Jeff Sessions of Alabama said Congress would wait for Gen. David Petraeus' report evaluating what progress has been made during the current troop buildup, which is designed to curb sectarian violence in Baghdad, but he depicted the reversal as all but inevitable.
"By September, when General Petraeus is to make a report, I think most of the people in Congress believe, unless something extraordinary occurs, that we should be on a move to draw those surge numbers down," Sessions said on CBS' Face the Nation.
"We have to know that we can't achieve everything we'd like to achieve," he said. "I don't think we need to be an occupying power. This is a fine line we've walked, and this surge has got to be temporary."
In January, Bush ordered 21,500 additional combat troops and thousands of support personnel sent to Iraq. There currently are an estimated 146,000 U.S. troops on the ground.
In the past, Sessions has opposed Democratic efforts to impose deadlines on U.S. troop levels in Iraq. His remarks followed a similar statement by the Senate Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said Friday that he expected the president to go in a different direction in the fall.
Also on Face the Nation, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, questioned the need to wait for Petraeus' report before starting to bring U.S. troops home.
"Why wait until September?" the Michigan Democrat said. "We've got men and women dying in Iraq right now. Why not make that change in course right now?
"We know it has to come," he said. "We know the Iraqi leaders have to take responsibility for their own country."
Robin Fields writes for the Los Angeles Times.