'Losing patience'
 
Last week, Warner demanded that Bush begin a limited withdrawal by Christmas, setting him at odds with the president who has said any pull-out must be dictated by the situation on the ground.
 
"The president has got to put teeth in these comments that we're not there forever"

John Warner, Republican senator
Warner told NBC's 'Meet the Press' that it would be best for the president, rather than congress, to make a decision on withdrawals and that overriding a presidential veto would be difficult.

But a significant change in strategy on Iraq is needed by September as people are losing patience, and troop withdrawals are the best way to accomplish that, he said.

"The president has got to put teeth in these comments that we're not there forever," he said. "

Warner has previously opposed legislation pushing for timetables.

'Totally failed'

"Our troops have performed magnificently, under brilliant leadership, and have done precisely as the president asked," he said.

"But the government, under the leadership of Maliki and other Iraqi leaders, have totally failed to put the other part of that partnership in place, namely deliver greater security."

Bush has defended the decision to send more
troops to Iraq as part of the "surge" [AFP]
Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has been facing mounting pressure from both the US and his own country over continuing sectarian violence and splits in his coalition government.

John Cornyn, another Republican senator, said he too was troubled with the Iraqi government problems uniting the Iraqi political factions but cautioned too much US pressure could backfire.

"Senator Warner is a great patriot and a student of history, and he's clearly sending a signal to the Iraqis that our patience is not unlimited, and that's correct," Cornyn, a fellow member of the senate armed services committee, told ABC's 'This Week' programme.

"But I don't think it's in our best interest to put so much pressure on the new Iraqi government that it absolutely collapses."

Al-Maliki retaliates

At the weekend, Nuri al-Maliki lashed out at US critics who have called for his removal and pushed for withdrawals.

He condemned senators Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin in particular saying that they "consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages".

On Sunday, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders announced in Baghdad they had agreed to resolve some of the key disputes, a move the White House quickly seized on as an encouraging sign of political progress.

The agreement by the Iraqi leaders covered issues that are among "benchmarks" designated by congress as a condition for continued US support.

The criticisms of al-Maliki's government and calls for military withdrawals came two weeks before a pivotal progress report on Iraq is presented to the US congress.

Bush has launched a campaign to fend off demands for an early pullout of American troops, saying the "surge" strategy, which deploying an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq, is showing promise and needs to be given more time to work.