Tue, Feb 06, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Senate to debate troop request

UNPOPULAR PLAN US lawmakers are divided over a non-binding resolution to the president's decision to send more troops, with some urging a tougher censure motion

AFP , WASHINGTON AND BAGHDAD

The bruising battle over US President George W. Bush's decision to send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq headed to the Senate floor yesterday with debate opening on a resolution rebuking the unpopular plan.

US lawmakers are divided over the non-binding resolution to the president's new Iraq war strategy, with Democrats opposed to the plan and some in their ranks urging an even tougher censure motion.

Bush's Republicans have been lobbying several disaffected colleagues not to defect to the opposition on the vote and instead give the president's plan a chance to work.

"This is our last best chance," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told ABC television's This Week program, vowing to fight the resolution.

"A non-binding resolution is a political exercise that does nothing but harm to the war effort, in my opinion, and it's a small moment for the Senate," he said.

Bush's plan has met with skepticism even among his fellow Republicans since it was unveiled on Jan. 10, with a new intelligence report that paints a grim picture of the conflict and escalating violence reinforcing anxiety over the US Iraq policy.

The outcome of the largely symbolic vote could set the stage for a high-stakes confrontation with Bush, as some Democratic lawmakers are pushing to curtail military funding for Iraq to block the president's war plan.

Bush was to send the government's annual budget proposal to Congress yesterday with huge funding requests for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leading Republican senators on Sunday reprimanded their colleagues who were backing the bill criticizing Bush's plan, saying the plan should be given time and that a no-confidence vote would undermine the troops.

Graham said that the National Intelligence Estimate released on Friday predicted more sectarian upheaval if US forces withdraw soon.

"If we leave, it is a death blow," he said. "I cannot guarantee you success, but I can promise you this: The day you set time lines and deadlines, it's lost in Iraq and it becomes a bigger war, not a smaller war."

But supporters of the censure, which was drafted by senators from both parties, said it simply made no sense to continue to send more US soldiers into harm's way.

"We cannot continue to feed our troops into the middle of a civil war," Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, one of the most vocal opponents of the plan and a potential presidential candidate, told ABC.

"Very simply put, we disagree with escalating our military involvement in Iraq," he said of the resolution's message.

Emboldened Democrats have challenged Bush's policy in Iraq since taking over Congress last month following an election triumph attributed mainly to popular discontent over the war, which has left nearly 3,100 US soldiers dead.

They have threatened to introduce bills capping the number of US troops -- there are currently 138,000 soldiers in Iraq -- in addition to using non-binding resolutions to condemn Bush's policy.

As many as a dozen Republicans may join Democrats in voting against Bush's troop "surge" strategy among the 49 Republicans in the 100-member Senate.

The bill is a compromise resolution drafted last week by top Republican John Warner and Democrat Carl Levin.

Republican Senator John McCain, another presidential hopeful for the election next year, said approving a resolution condemning the new strategy would amount to "a vote of no confidence in the troops and their mission."

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