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Wednesday, October 22

Biden cautions against prematurely bringing home troops

By Erin Kelly | GNS

WASHINGTON - The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday cautioned President Bush against withdrawing troops from Iraq too quickly just to score political points in an election season.

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said he wants the troops home as much as anyone but doesn't want to sacrifice the peace by pulling out before Iraq is stabilized and rebuilt. He said he fears Bush may begin withdrawing thousands of troops as early as Christmas to counteract the images of ``body bags coming home.''

``I think they're setting it up to get the hell out,'' Biden said.

The White House had no immediate comment.

Recent polls have shown growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. A CNN-USA TODAY-Gallup Poll taken Sept. 19-21 showed Americans were almost evenly divided over whether it was worth going to war.

Biden has supported the war, although he has criticized the Bush administration for failing to secure support from the United Nations and the international community before going into Iraq. Biden voted for the resolution authorizing Bush to go to war and for the president's recent request for $87 billion to finance continued military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush administration comments that a new Iraqi Army can be rebuilt in 18 months are contradicted by experts who say it will take two years or more, Biden said. He said experts have told him it will take three years - not the six months the administration is estimating - just to create a decent prison system in Iraq.

``Everybody would be overjoyed if in fact there really isn't a need for 100,000-plus troops by June - if there's only a need for 60,000 or less,'' Biden said during a news conference in his Senate office. ``That would be wonderful. I don't want to stay there. But the timetables for training an Iraqi military and police force are unrealistic.''

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has not voiced any similar concerns about the premature withdrawal of troops, said his spokesman, Andy Fisher.

``There's no evidence that it's happening or is going to happen,'' Fisher said. ``Senator Lugar's view has been that we need to be there as long as necessary, probably five to seven years. That doesn't mean it always has to be just U.S. troops or the same type of troops that we have there now.''