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Iraq Debate Heats Up In US Congress

American lawmakers continue debating Democratic opposition to President Bush over new U.S. troop deployments to Iraq. Democrats in the House of Representatives have proposed legislation calling for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq by 2008, at the latest. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

The Senate last week tried, but failed, to win Republican support for a plan to debate a resolution calling for U.S. forces to pull out of Iraq.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called the Democratic efforts "dangerous political theater," and told CNN's Late Edition he believes they undercut the top U.S. military official in Iraq, General David Petraeus.

"We need to reinforce this infant democracy that is less than a year old, across all fronts, and quit talking about leaving, until we get it right," said Lindsey Graham. "Our national security interests will be determined by what we left behind. A failed state in Iraq is a nightmare for this country, and we need to allow General Petraeus the chance to go forward. These resolutions do not help."

Speaking on the same program, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, questioned President Bush's latest request to Congress for several thousand more U.S. troops to Iraq, over and above the 21,500-troop buildup announced in January.

"The bottom line is you cannot continue to escalate this war without any underlying plan as to what happens when in fact you do bring order, if you bring order," said Joseph Biden. "The president has now gone from Petraeus telling us there were going to be 17,500 troops. They are now talking about the need for 30,000 troops in there. They are now talking about being there for another year. I mean, what is the plan? What is going on here? What are you attempting to do?"

In the House, lawmakers are working on legislation that would require President Bush to meet deadlines in July and October of this year to inform Congress about progress made by the Iraqi government on meeting political, economic and security goals. If the White House cannot provide the necessary certification, it would trigger the start of a six-month period of U.S. troop withdrawals.

Spokesmen accompanying President Bush in South America have issued a veto threat. This position was echoed by the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who told NBC's Meet the Press he hopes Iraqis understand that in the U.S. political system, the authority for war rests with the president.

"They understand what happens in America is very important for them," said Zalmay Khalilzad. "But at same time, that they understand our system. The president is the commander-in-chief, and that he has his prerogatives."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also rejected calls for a precipitous U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. He told CNN's Late Edition that he believes Iraqi troops are not able to act on their own to maintain security in many parts of the country.

"The problem is in Baghdad and in some central provinces," said Zebari. "Still, their [U.S. troops] presence is much needed. I think any decisions to pull these troops out prematurely or in a hasty way would have disastrous consequences for everybody, for the United States, for the region, for the stability and security of the entire region, which is the most vital."

Zebari added that coalition troops are in Iraq because of U.N. mandate and with his government's consent.