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US Senate Opens Debate on Iraq


The U.S. Senate has begun debate about the Iraq war as part of its consideration of a defense policy bill. Senate Democratic leaders hope to force a series of votes in the coming days aimed at changing U.S. strategy in Iraq. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, is hoping to put a number of Republican lawmakers on record as to where they stand on the Iraq war.

Following a week-long congressional recess during which lawmakers returned to their home districts to hear constituents' concerns about the unpopular war, the Senate Monday began a debate on Iraq as part of its consideration of a defense authorization bill.

A number of anti-war amendments are expected to come to a vote, including measures limiting spending for combat operations and calling for a timetable to withdraw combat troops from Iraq.

Senator Reid says he will move forward with the amendments, even though the Bush administration has urged lawmakers to wait to assess the war until after the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, briefs Congress in September:

"The president's current strategy is not working," said Harry Reid. "We cannot wait until September to act."

In recent weeks, three respected Senate Republicans, including the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, publicly broke with President Bush and called for a new direction in Iraq, one that would reduce the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Majority Leader Reid called on those Republicans to support amendments that would hasten a troop pullout from Iraq.

But at the White House, spokesman Tony Snow warned that serious consequences would result from an immediate U.S. withdrawal:

"Withdrawal in the absence of a strategic advantage on the ground is an empty gesture," said Tony Snow. "If you withdraw to appease public opinion, and the situation on the ground gets worse, what do you have? You have worse public opinion and you have a higher requirement either to get forces back into the field at a higher cost and a higher cost to public morale, or you walk away, and create what everybody agrees is an intolerable security situation."

Another influential Republican, Senator John Warner of Virginia, says he will withhold his views on Iraq until after the administration releases an interim report to Congress. That report, expected to be delivered by Sunday, is to offer an assessment of President Bush's decision to send thousands of additional troops to Iraq.

Warner, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has expressed his own concerns about the conduct of the war in the past. But in comments to reporters, he refused to describe growing Republican opposition to the president's strategy, as an "erosion" of support.

"I do not view it as an erosion," said Senator Warner. "These are colleagues who are speaking from their own conscience. I do not look upon it as the word 'erosion' or 'defection'. They are contributions to the debate, and I think those contributions are important."

On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to vote on an amendment that would require that U.S. troops spend as much time in the United States as they do in combat. Among its sponsors is Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican:

"Our troops are being deployed longer than they should be, more frequently than they should be, and without full training and equipment,"s aid Senator Hagel. "We are eroding our military power at a time when our country faces an increasing arc of challenges and threats across the globe."

In the House of Representatives, Democratic leaders are drafting their own legislation calling for U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by early next year.

President Bush has repeatedly rejected troop withdrawal timetables and vetoed a war funding measure because it contained such a timeline.

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