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US President Faces New Pressures From Congress on Iraq


On the eve of his State of the Union Address, President Bush faces new resistance and other pressures from Congress to his plan to send more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq. A new non-binding bipartisan resolution in the Senate comes as House Republicans propose benchmarks they say would help the president measure progress in Iraq in coming months. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill:

The latest resolution by Senate lawmakers, including three key Republicans, asks the president to consider alternatives to sending more troops into Iraq.

John Warner, former Republican head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says the point is not to set up a confrontation with the president, but to send this message:

"We urge Mr. President, respecting your right as commander-in-chief, we urge that you look at other options by which you do not have the magnitude of 21,500 inserted into Iraq," said John Warner.

Warner says he and fellow Republicans Susan Collins and Norm Coleman, with Democrat Ben Nelson, would put their measure forward only if another competing non-binding measure is approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That measure, sponsored by Senate Democrat Joseph Biden and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, flatly opposes the president's plan. Senator Warner says he would not support it.

Senate Susan Collins say she agrees with Senator Warner that putting 21,000 additional U.S. troops in the middle of sectarian battles is a mistake:

"I came back [from her most recent trip to Iraq] convinced that inserting more American troops into Baghdad, into the midst of a sectarian struggle, would be a major mistake," said Susan Collins.

In a telephone news conference Monday, Virginia Senator James Webb provided a hint of what he may say on Iraq when he delivers the formal Democratic response to the State of the Union Address:

"It [the troop surge] is something of a tactical adjustment but the bottom line is, quite frankly, it is just a lot more flailing around rather than coming up with something specific that is going to end our involvement, and bring better stability to the region, and allow us to focus on international terrorism and our other strategic objectives. Those should be the goals," said James Webb.

With the president due to speak Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress, House Republicans took a step to support the president's overall goals, but underscore their concern.

They propose a list of political, social and military benchmarks roughly mirroring the president's own objectives, to measure progress and hold the Iraqi government accountable.

They would also require a report to Congress every 30 days from the White House and Iraqi government, and a formal assessment of the impact of any U.S. troop withdrawal.

Minority Leader John Boehner's response to a reporter's question (Monday) was an acknowledgement of the kind of atmosphere awaiting the president:

"Support on the [Capitol] Hill among Republicans is still strong," said John Boehner. "But there are a lot of members of our party who are skeptical that the plan will work."

In a letter to the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Republicans also urge creation of a special bipartisan committee comprising chairmen of existing foreign relations, intelligence and other panels, to help Congress oversee progress or the lack of it, in Iraq.

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