By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's Iraq war policy continued to hemorrhage support in the U.S. Senate as another senior Republican called on Thursday for a new strategy that would start to bring troops home.
A day after Bush appealed to Americans to be more patient with the unpopular war, six-term New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, who is up for re-election next year, urged a new course.
"I am unwilling to continue our current strategy," Domenici, who serves on the Senate's defense appropriations subcommittee, said in a statement.
"I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home," Domenici said.
Domenici joined the ranks of influential Republican lawmakers who recently have broken with Bush over the 4-year-old conflict in Iraq, declaring themselves unable to keep backing a war that has no end in sight after the deaths of 3,590 U.S. troops.
"I have carefully studied the Iraq situation and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward," Domenici said.
Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared last week that Bush's strategy was not working and troops should start leaving. Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, another Republican, urged "gradual military disengagement."
Bush has shown no public sign of changing course. On Wednesday, he asked the country for "more patience, more courage and more sacrifice" in Iraq during an Independence Day address at a National Guard air base.
The White House has played down the Republican defections while anti-war forces have new hope for a coalition in the Senate that would force a change in U.S. war strategy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who voted to authorize the war in 2002 but then soured on the conflict, said on Thursday that senators like Domenici, Lugar and Voinovich now had to back their criticism with votes for withdrawal.
Reid said they would have a chance beginning with a defense policy bill that will be brought to the Senate floor next week.
Domenici said he backed a bipartisan Senate proposal that may be debated as part of the defense policy bill and would create the conditions for a possible drawdown of U.S. troops by March.
The plan by Sens. Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, and Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, embraces recommendations made last December by the Iraq Study Group.
Republican leaders have urged lawmakers to wait until September, when the top U.S. commander in Iraq makes his progress report, before pushing for change in Iraq policy. But Domenici said he could see now that things were not improving.