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Bush Drops 'Stay The Course' Phrase

With just two weeks until Election Day, the White House sought to ease political anxieties over security in Iraq — most notably by no longer saying the United States will "stay the course" in Iraq — but rejected calls from lawmakers for a dramatic policy shift.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Monday the phrase "stay the course" doesn't capture the "dynamism" of the tactics America and its allies are employing.

"He stopped using it," Snow said of that phrase.

Snow said the United States would adjust its Iraq strategy but would not issue any ultimatums to the Iraqis.

"Are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is no," Snow said.

Meanwhile, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday that Iraqi forces should be able to take full control of security in the country within the next 12 to 18 months with minimal American support.

Gen. George Casey said the United States should continue to focus on drawing down the number of American forces in the country, adding that he would not hesitate to ask for more troops if he felt they were necessary.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who opened the rare joint press conference with Casey, said that the Iraqi government had agreed to develop a timeline for progress by the end of the year. He declared that the United States needed to redouble its efforts to succeed in Iraq.

The Nov. 7 elections will determine whether Republicans retain control of Congress, and lawmakers in both parties are calling on President Bush to change his war plans.

"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an Associated Press interview. U.S. and Iraqi officials should be held accountable for the lack of progress, said Graham, a Republican who is a frequent critic of the administration's policies.

Asked who in particular should be held accountable — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps, or the generals leading the war, Graham said: "All of them. It's their job to come up with a game plan" to end the violence.

Mr. Bush, in a CNBC interview, said, "Well, I've been talking about a change in tactics ever since I — ever since we went in, because the role of the commander in chief is to say to our generals, `You adjust to the enemy on the battlefield."'

Showing progress in Iraq is critical because the approaching elections are widely viewed as a referendum on the war.

A report in Sunday's New York Times said the head of the U.S.-led Multinational Forces in Iraq and Khalilzad were working on a plan that probably would — for the first time — outline milestones for disarming sectarian militias and meeting other political and economic goals.

Rumsfeld, in remarks at the Pentagon, said U.S. government and military officials were working with Iraq to set a broad timetable for Iraqis to take over 16 provinces still being controlled by U.S. troops. But he said officials were not talking about penalizing the Iraqis if they don't hit certain benchmarks.

The Iraqis have taken control of two southern provinces but have been slow to take the lead in others, particularly those around Baghdad and in the volatile regions north and west of the capital. Rumsfeld said specific target dates probably will not be set.

Rumsfeld visited the White House early Monday with Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld said the United States was looking at when the Iraqis would move close to setting up a reconciliation process to help quell worsening sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

On Monday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said that Iraq needed to "step up" its commitment to ending sectarian violence and added of the Bush administration, "We aren't sitting there with our heads in the sand. We are completely changing on a week-by-week basis."

Facing growing impatience with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's failure to stem the carnage, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said international forces must not abandon Iraq while the situation there remains volatile.

"I do believe there is no option for the international community to cut and run," he told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. He said Iraqis and the international community need to be realistic, "but not defeatist."

"We need to understand that there is a need of utmost urgency to deal with many of the problems of Iraq but we must not give in to panic," he said.

At least 2,799 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,236 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

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