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Sessions endorses Iraq plan

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — After hesitating to explicitly endorse it, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Mobile is now backing President Bush's plan that would maintain U.S. troop levels in Iraq at about 130,000 at least into next summer.

In an interview Thursday, Sessions called the plan unveiled by Gen. David Petraeus last week "the right policy." He said leaving Iraq sooner would hurt U.S. interests.

"It's still a very tough situation, and we've got to be honest about that," he said, calling
the decision one of the most important Congress will make. "Iraq shouldn't be given a rubber stamp. The White House shouldn't be given a rubber stamp, but it does appear that we've gotten better news in recent weeks."

Sessions, who is up for re-election next year, has stood firmly behind President Bush on Iraq since the war began in 2003. At the same time, he has expressed concern about policing sectarian violence and wearing out the military with longer and more frequent troop rotations.

Petraeus' report

Last week — as many of his GOP colleagues rallied around Petraeus' report that progress was being made — Sessions sent mixed signals about
supporting a longer commitment and said Congress should take time to consider the next steps.

He said Thursday he has decided that ignoring Petraeus' request for more time could create chaos.

"Gen. Petraeus' report was the most critical and decisive," Sessions said. "It was what he was able to tell us factually that ... we have a realistic chance of success."

Alabama's other congressional Republicans have taken similar positions, while Democratic Reps. Artur Davis and Bud Cramer have called for troops to be gradually withdrawn.

In his testimony to the House and Senate this week, Petraeus said he envisions withdrawing by next summer the 30,000 additional troops that President Bush sent to Iraq earlier this year as part of a military offensive to try to stabilize the country. That would leave U.S. force levels at about 130,000 by mid-2008 — roughly the same "pre-surge" number stationed there at the beginning of 2007.

In 2003, Sessions wrote former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging the quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, arguing that American forces could not be effective police officers there. Sessions has said his call for reducing troops occurred before the later escalation in violence. As circumstances evolved, he has said, he changed his views on maintaining troop levels.

"I do believe that Congress needs to monitor it. We've had good news before followed by bad news," he said. "No one should be overly optimistic about the weeks to come."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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