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Democrats, Republicans Spar Over Iraq

As the Pentagon underscores efforts to strengthen the Iraqi military and counter insurgents, lawmakers in Congress continue to spar over the issue of intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq. As Republicans highlight what they say is high morale among U.S. troops, Democrats are keeping up pressure on the question of pre-war intelligence.

Thursday offered yet another day of contrasts regarding the war in Iraq.

Army soldiers, marines and commanding officers told the House Armed Services Committee morale remains high among U.S. troops.

Command Sergeant Major Neil Citola, says American soldiers are proud of their mission supporting Iraqi democracy and reconstruction.

"Today, while fighting still continues in Iraq, the country continues its march toward democracy, regardless of what you may read in the press sir," he said.

A short distance away at the Pentagon, spokesman Lawrence DiRita fielded reporter's questions about ongoing attacks by insurgents using improvised explosive devices, and whether U.S. forces might be drawn down from the current level of 161,000.

"General Casey [commander of multinational forces in Iraq] will kind of look at the conditions that exist, look at the conditions that exist with Iraqi security forces, and make certain recommendations on the capability that he needs," he explained.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, opposition Democrats maintained pressure on Republicans on the question of pre-war intelligence used to justify military action in Iraq in 2003.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Thursday used what is called a privileged resolution to keep the Iraq controversy in the spotlight.

"Until the Congress examines fully issues like whether intelligence was politicized, we have failed in a fundamental way to protect our troops and maintain a level of trust with the American people," she said.

At the same time, controversy continued over a Washington Post newspaper report this week that the CIA is running secret prisons in a number of countries to house and interrogate terrorist suspects.

A key pro-military Democrat, Congressman Ike Skelton said the Washington Post report served to diminish the impact of positive stories about the heroism and high morale of U.S. troops:

"The report from the Washington Post is a dagger in that thought," he said.

Discussion about The Washington Post report triggered renewed debate in Thursday's committee hearing about the treatment of Iraqis by U.S. troops, and terrorist suspects in general.

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter is critical of what he calls suggestions in the Post article that detainees are being mistreated.

"An article, which vaguely asserts that somehow America has been bad because we keep people in remote locations. You have to keep people in remote locations, and you have to keep them segregated and you have to get information from them," said Mr. Hunter.

Also on Capitol Hill, a group of lawmakers held a news conference to underscore their call for the Bush administration to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq no later than October of 2006.

Republican Congressman Walter Jones.

"All we are doing today is saying to the president, please Mr. President, let us know that there is an end point to this involvement in Iraq. There will come a time that Iraqis can defend their own country," said Mr. Jones.

The effort is supported by former Democratic Senator and Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland.

"So you either command the military strategy, you either clearly delineate your exist strategy, or you will certainly have it forced upon you," said Mr. Cleland. "Those are the two choices right now."

Only four Republicans are among 62 House members supporting the resolution urging President Bush to develop and carry out a plan to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.