NEW YORK (AP) – The New York Times called on Sunday for President Bush to withdraw U.S. military forces from Iraq as soon as an “orderly exit” can be arranged, saying that “whatever his cause was, it is lost.”

“Continuing to sacrifice the lives and limbs of American solders is wrong. The war is sapping the strength of the nation’s alliances and its military forces,” The Times said in an editorial.

“It is a dangerous diversion from the life-and-death struggle against terrorists. It is an increasing burden on American taxpayers, and it is a betrayal of a world that needs the wise application of American power and principles.”

The paper said Congress should put a pullout at the top of its agenda when it reconvenes this week.

The Times said it had postponed its call for a withdrawal to await some sign that Bush was “seriously trying to dig the United States out of the disaster he created by invading Iraq without sufficient cause,” against global opposition and with no plan to build a “stable, unified” Iraq.

“When it became clear that the President had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow …”

However, “promised breakthroughs” after elections, the writing of a constitution, and the sending of thousands more troops failed to produce any progress “toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal,” the paper said.

“It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.”

“It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit,” the Times said. The Times acknowledged that a U.S. withdrawal could lead to greater bloodshed and chaos in Iraq and the surrounding region, reprisals against U.S. friends, “further ethnic cleansing, even genocide,” and “destabilizing refugee flows” to Jordan and Syria.

“Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate,” the editorial said.

The Times is not the first U.S. newspaper to call for a withdrawal from Iraq. The Los Angeles Times urged a pullout last May 6, in an editorial titled, “Bring Them Home.” Other papers urging a withdrawal, according to the industry journal, Editor & Publisher, have included the Sun of Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.