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Top US Congressional Democrats Urge Bush Not to Send More Troops to Iraq

The top leaders of the new Democratic-led U.S. Congress are urging President Bush not to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. Their comments, in a letter to the president Friday, come as Mr. Bush is preparing to announce an overhaul of his Iraq strategy next week that could include a short-term surge in troop strength. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

In their letter to President Bush, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrat in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, wrote that adding more combat troops in Iraq would only endanger more Americans and stretch the U.S. military to the breaking point for no strategic gain.

News reports say President Bush may call for a temporary increase of some 20,000 troops when he addresses the nation next week.

Pelosi and Reid urged the president to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in four to six months, and shift the mission of U.S. forces there from combat to training and logistical support.

Senator Reid offered similar comments on the Senate floor Thursday. He said, "The president's new plan must ensure that Iraq takes responsibility for their own future, and remove our troops from this civil war."

Another key Senate Democrat, Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, also opposes a short-term increase in U.S. troops in Iraq.

In an interview published in the Washington Post Friday, Biden says he believes top officials in the Bush administration have privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster so the next president - in his words - will be the one landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof - in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of the U.S. pullout from the Vietnam War.

But Senator John McCain, a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee and himself a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, took issue with Biden's comments.

"I believe that the war is still winnable," he said. "But to prevail, we will need to do everything right and the Iraqis will have to do their part."

McCain, who is expected to seek the Republican nomination for president next year, made his comments at a forum in Washington. He has long called for increasing U.S. troops in Iraq.

"The presence of additional coalition forces would give the Iraqi government the ability to do what it can not accomplish today on its own: impose its rule throughout the country," said McCain.

Echoing McCain's comments at the same forum was Senator Joe Lieberman, who abandoned his Democratic Party affiliation to become an Independent during his tough reelection bid last year.

He said, "We need to restore security to open the possibility for Iraqi politics and economy to take off."

Key House and Senate Committees are planning a series of hearings on the Iraq war beginning next week. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, are expected to testify on Capitol Hill after President Bush delivers his speech to the nation.