White House dismisses Iraq pullout report


Washington : A newspaper report that President George W. Bush's aides are increasingly debating a possible US troop withdrawal from Iraq to counter domestic political pressure is overblown, the White House said Monday.

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After several high-profile senators announced their opposition to Bush's Iraq strategy over the past two weeks, some Bush aides are concerned that political support for the war effort is collapsing, the New York Times reported in Monday's edition.

To prevent more defections, some in the Bush administration are weighing a gradual withdrawal from parts of Baghdad and other cities where the most US troops are being killed, the report said, citing unnamed sources.

But White House spokesman Tony Snow said the account was "not accurate" and "way ahead of the facts," Cable News Network (CNN) reported.

The new flurry comes as Congress awaits a progress report from the administration on its Iraq strategy, due Sunday, and the Senate debates a war spending bill this week.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates cancelled a four-day trip to Latin America set for this week to concentrate on preparing the report, which will measure progress toward benchmarks on peace and stability in Iraq, the Pentagon said.

Gates reportedly favours a gradual pullback of US troops from Iraq. He will travel to El Salvador, Colombia, Peru and Chile at a later date, the Pentagon said.

Senate Democrats plan to challenge the Bush administration's conduct of the war during this week's defence budget debate. One amendment would allow for a drawdown of US combat forces by March 2008.

Bush says this year's recently completed US troop build-up in Iraq should be given time to work. He has insisted he will wait for a September progress report from his top general in Iraq before considering changes in the US engagement.

But the public defection of three prominent Republican senators from the White House line has heightened pressure on Bush in recent days.

Breaking with the White House, they say the US military can't force reconciliation among Iraqi factions and have called for a redeployment of most US troops.

Polls show that two-thirds of Americans believe Bush has mishandled the war in Iraq. With 18 months left in his term, Bush's approval ratings have fallen to all-time lows around 30 percent.

Congress, under Democratic control since November elections, has tried unsuccessfully to legislate an end to the US engagement in Iraq, running up against a rare veto by Bush.