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Republicans, Democrats Speak Out on Iraq


On the eve of another speech Wednesday by President Bush on Iraq, congressional Republicans are rallying around him regarding efforts to help Iraqis build their military forces to fight the insurgency and terrorists there.

Republicans in the House of Representatives called a news conference Tuesday aimed at helping to counter what they call misconceptions about the commitment of Iraqis to handle their own security burdens and general pessimism about the effort in Iraq.

Congressman Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican who recently returned from a visit to Iraq describes meetings he and other lawmakers had with Iraqi commanders:

"They wanted us to continue to look at the maps of areas of Baghdad and of Iraq that they had secured," Congressman Murphy said. "They had story after story to tell us of how their troops, their soldiers now were taking over, and as they took over sections we would step back, we would hand off control of those areas to them and they are doing the job and they are proud of it."

Republicans have spent recent weeks trying to blunt the impact of a call last month by Democratic Congressman John Murtha for U.S. troops to leave Iraq as soon as feasible, and preferably within six months.

In Tuesday's news conference, the lawmakers said while Mr. Murtha and others have a right to voice their opinions, they are concerned about the impact of the debate on the morale of U.S. troops.

Republican Congressman John Kline says his recent visit to Iraq persuaded him that U.S. soldiers remain committed to their mission:

"Their morale was high, they were glad to be there, they were confident in what they were doing, and they were proud of what they have accomplished," Mr. Kline said.

Referring to the Iraqi election later this month, Duncan Hunter, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, says American forces are providing the shield Iraqis need to build democratic institutions.

"We are also training a military that will have the capability of defending its government and that is what it has to do. It doesn't have to stop a large invasion from outside of Iraq," Mr. Hunter said. "It simply has to be able to protect its own government."

Congressman Hunter adds that he has been discussing with Senate Republicans a possible provision to be inserted in defense spending legislation that would ensure that training for Iraqi forces include guidelines for the humane treatment of detainees.

Some lawmakers also directed criticism at the media, which they suggest has been responsible for preventing the full story of successes in Iraq from getting out to the American public.

The House Republicans gave a warm, if cautious, reception to a proposal by Senator Joseph Lieberman to create a special council on Iraq that would examine strategies and progress on the ground.

Senator Lieberman is among Democrats who have not endorsed Congressman Murtha's call for an expedited withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and opposes setting any timetable.

The Senate last month approved a statement that described 2006 as a year of transition to greater Iraqi control of its own security, along with a requirement for regular reports from the Bush administration on progress.

As for President Bush's speech Wednesday, following his earlier one laying out what he called a plan for winning the war in Iraq, Democrats have scheduled news conferences before and after to reiterate their position on what they call his mishandling of Iraq.

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