WASHINGTON – Under election-year pressure to change course in Iraq, the Bush administration said Monday there are no plans for dramatic shifts in policy or for ultimatums to Baghdad to force progress.

Just two weeks before the Nov. 7 elections that will determine whether Republicans retain control of Congress, the White House tried to calm political anxieties about deteriorating security in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are calling on President Bush to change his war plan.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said U.S. government and military officials were working with Iraq to set broad time frames for when Iraqis can take over 16 provinces that are still under the control of U.S. troops.

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 city. Rumsfeld said specific target dates probably will not be set. Instead, he said there might be a broader time frame – such as a one- to three-month window – for the Iraqis to take control of certain provinces.

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.

Frustration with the war is eroding support in Republican as well as Democratic camps.

Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said two Republicans have told him they will demand a new policy in Iraq after the election. Biden declined to name the GOP lawmakers. He said Republicans have been told not to make waves before the election because it could cost the party seats. Yet some prominent GOP lawmakers have expressed doubts about Bush’s policy.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the United States was continually adjusting its strategy in Iraq.

“In that sense there are new things going on. But are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is no,” Snow said.

“There is still a very large to-do list before Iraq is in a position to sustain, govern and defend itself,” he said.

“Are we issuing ultimatums? No.”

He acknowledged, however, that Bush no longer is saying that the United States will “stay the course” in Iraq.

“He stopped using it,” Snow said of that phrase, adding that it left the impression that the administration was not adjusting its strategy to realities in Baghdad.

Showing progress in Iraq is critical with the approaching elections, which are widely viewed as a referendum on public support of the war. In Baghdad on Tuesday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander there, are scheduled to hold a rare joint news conference.

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.


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