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Legislators shift on Iraq plan

Published January 13, 2007


WASHINGTON - Senators who back President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq tried Friday to bolster support for the unpopular strategy while Democrats plotted ways to derail the increase and force changes in war policies.

A day after Bush's proposal was pelted with bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a leading presidential contender for 2008, said he supports the plan. At a committee hearing, he tried to shift the burden to war critics.

McCain said those advocating the start of a troop withdrawal, which includes many Democrats, "have a responsibility to tell us what they believe are the consequences of withdrawal in Iraq. If we walk away from Iraq, we'll be back, possibly in the context of a wider war."

Besides McCain, others on the Armed Services Committee voicing support for Bush included Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who last year challenged the White House on its detainee policy; Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, elected as an independent last fall when Democrats backed an antiwar candidate; and Republicans John Cornyn of Texas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

Graham urged "that we not have a political stampede to declare the war lost when it's not yet lost, or to embrace strategies that would lead to defeat."

In a second day of hearings, there was still considerable congressional skepticism about Bush's strategy, which would add 21,500 U.S. troops to the 132,000 already in Iraq.

Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who oversees military funding, said he will propose tying congressional approval of war funds to shutting the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. Other conditions he said he is considering include not extending troop deployments and giving soldiers and Marines more time to train between deployments.

Bush is expected to ask in February for $100-billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Testifying before the Armed Services Committee on Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the effectiveness of the increase in troops depends heavily on the Iraqis taking certain steps and that Bush has made it clear additional U.S. support is not open-ended.

If the operation is successful, "we in fact may be able to begin drawing down some of our troops later this year," Gates said. "But that will depend entirely on the situation in the ground."

Gates and Pace also assured members of the committee that there are no plans to take military operations into Iran, clarifying remarks Bush made on Wednesday in announcing the new Iraq package.

Bush vowed to stop Iran and Syria from supporting violence in Iraq. Pace said the military will conduct those efforts within Iraq.

Fast Facts:

The latest

- Recent U.S. raids against Iranians in Iraq were authorized under an order President Bush issued several months ago to undertake an offensive against Iranian operatives, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday. "There has been a decision to go after these networks," Rice told the New York Times.

- Five Iranians detained by U.S.-led forces Thursday were working in a decade-old government liaison office that was in the process of being upgraded to a consulate, the Iraqi foreign minister said Friday. The U.S. State Department said the forces had information linking the facility to Iranian elements engaging in violent activities in Iraq.


[Last modified January 13, 2007, 00:54:32]

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