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Senate Democrats Press Bush to Detail Plans in Iraq


Senate Democrats are renewing their calls on President Bush to answer specific questions about administration strategy in Iraq.

On the eve of a speech President Bush plans to deliver on the war against terrorism, Senate Democrats sent the White House a letter calling on Mr. Bush to use his address to detail his plans in Iraq.

They released their letter just hours after Mr. Bush spoke in the White House Rose Garden, praising U.S. efforts to train Iraqi troops and the preparations for Iraqis to vote on a new constitution in a referendum on October 15.

On the one hand, we're making progress when it comes to training Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy, we're bringing the enemy to justice, we're on the offense," Mr. Bush says. "On the other hand, democracy is moving forward in a part of the world that is so desperate for democracy and so desperate for freedom.

But as U.S. costs in Iraq continue to rise in terms of lives and dollars, and with American public support for the U.S. involvement in Iraq waning, Democrats are urging a change of policy.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is the Senate's top Democrat. "Staying the course is not the answer," he says.

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, fears that staying the course will only lead to civil war. He wants to know what the U.S. strategy will be in Iraq in the near term, and in the long term.

"What we urge in this letter is that the president, and here I am quoting just one line, that the president tell us what plan he has, what actions he will take, both before and after the October 15th constitutional referendum to forge the necessary political consensus and to reconcile the growing sectarian and religious differences," Mr. Levin says.

Senator Levin also wants to know how strong Iraqi forces must be before a withdrawal of U.S. troops can begin.

The top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, wants to know the president's plans to forge ahead with reconstruction in Iraq.

"He has to tell us how much money is going to be spent in what timeframe to get the sewage out of the streets and the electricity on," Mr. Biden says. "He must be held accountable."

And the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, criticized the administration for not being more forthcoming with the American people on the financial costs of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan:

"The enormous cost, the enormous cost keeping hundreds of thousands of troops fighting in two wars, each of them half a world away, continues to be a black hole, a black hole in the president's budget," Mr. Byrd says.

Senate Democrats also are furious over a decision to cancel a briefing they requested on Iraq that was to be given by National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

No reason was given for the cancellation, but Republicans say a number of senior military officials briefed lawmakers last week about the situation.

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