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By ANNE PLUMMER FLAHERTY
Sen. John Warner on Thursday offered his darkest assessment yet of Iraq, saying the war there was "drifting sideways" without a commitment from its government to disarm militias.
Warner, a Republican and Bush loyalist, made his comments to reporters upon returning from a recent trip to the region.
He said the military had done what it could and that Congress must make some "bold decisions" if, after three months, progress is not made by the Iraqis to calm ethnic violence and hasten reconstruction.
Warner did not say what he thinks Congress should do, but added all options will be considered. Lawmakers have suggested various remedies, including setting a timetable to pull out U.S. troops and dividing the country into smaller independent ethnic states.
"There is progress being made in certain areas," said Warner, a Virginian who chairs the Armed Services Committee. But "you just find that so many communities don’t even have drinking water. … It seems to me that the situation is simply drifting sideways."
While Warner has expressed grave concerns about Iraq in the past, his description of a nation hobbled by violent ethnic killings and an ineffective government was his most pessimistic yet.
It underscored growing concerns among Republicans facing midterm elections this November that the White House must change course. Most recently, House moderate Chris Shays, R-Conn., called on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign.
Warner’s suggestion that the Iraqi government has a limited time to show improvement echoed a message delivered this week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice said the security situation was "not one that can be tolerated and it is not one that is being helped by political inaction."
Pressure on the Iraqi government comes as both U.S. casualties and ethnic killings in Iraq are on the rise, and war-weary voters head to the polls on Nov. 7.
Warner said he sees the next 60 to 90 days as most critical juncture yet in the war because Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki is growing into the job and says he is committed to disarming militias.
Military generals in Iraq have declined to speculate when U.S. troops might be able to come home. Warner said he was told on his latest trip that, at the earliest, U.S. and Iraqi forces may have an agreement at the end of the year outlining when and how responsibility could begin to be transferred to the Iraqis.