Elections, Rumsfeld exit open door to change for Iraq but politics could shut it

Democratic control of Congress, public dislike for the Iraq war and the departure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld could open the door for a policy shift in the conflict, but early maneuvering for the 2008 presidential election could slam the door shut.

What happens will depend largely on how the White House, leaders of both parties and the candidates to replace President George W. Bush in two years interpret the results of this week's congressional voting and seek political footing for the 2008 race, analysts said.

Although both parties want to salvage political and military success in Iraq for its own sake, the war's prominence as a political issue complicates bipartisan cooperation.

That may be especially true for Democrats if they conclude that anything shy of a demand for fast withdrawal of U.S. troops looks wishy-washy, or that the modest course changes possible by cooperating with Republicans would be jumping onto a sinking ship.

"If the Democrats ... squander the opportunity that we've been given over the next two years, we'll have problems in '08," said Democratic Senator Barack Obama, himself a possible presidential contender, in a speech in Chicago on Thursday, reports AP.

Cooperation is possible if both parties see it in their interest to lower the political temperature on Iraq, making it less of a rallying cry for the next campaign, said James Carafano, senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. He argued that both parties and the country would benefit.

"There is a remarkable opportunity to change the politics, for Democrats and the president to take the Iraq issue off the table as an issue to play political pingpong with," said Carafano, who studies politics and military issues.

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