U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked Congress to approve nearly $190 billion more in funding for the military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He made his request at Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
Secretary of Defense Gates says the additional money is needed to train more Iraqi and Afghan security forces, buy new armored vehicles that can protect U.S. troops against roadside bombs, refurbish equipment worn down by combat and consolidate U.S. bases in Iraq.
Gates urged quick approval of the money, which is for the new budget year beginning Monday.
"I urge the Congress to approve the complete global war on terror request as quickly as possible, and without excessive and counterproductive restrictions," he said.
But the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, reiterated his criticism of President Bush's troop surge strategy and cautioned Gates that his panel's approval of the funding request would not be automatic. The comments were applauded by anti-war demonstrators, who repeatedly disrupted the hearing.
"We cannot create a democracy at the point of a gun. Sending more guns does not change that reality," he said. "This committee will not, not, rubber stamp every request that is submitted by the president."
Byrd noted that the administration's latest request would bring the total appropriated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to more than $600 billion.
Secretary Gates acknowledged that the unpopular war in Iraq continues to be what he called a source of friction within Congress, between Congress and the president, and in the wider public debate. But he said he hoped lawmakers would keep the safety and security of U.S. forces in mind when considering the funding request.
Earlier, the Senate voted 75 to 23 to approve a nonbinding measure that calls for promoting a federal system of government in Iraq based on provisions in the Iraqi constitution.
The measure, contained in an amendment to a defense bill, calls for allowing Iraq to divide along ethnic lines, with Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions controlling their own police and government services, and a central government in Baghdad protecting Iraq's borders and distributing oil revenues.
After the vote, the chief sponsor, Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden of Delaware, said the plan offers a path to a political solution in Iraq that could allow U.S. troops to eventually go home.
"What we said today was, there is a way, Mr. President, to end this war in a way that we are able ultimately to bring our troops home but leave a stable Iraq behind," said Mr. Biden.
The Senate also approved on a 76 to 22 vote a non-binding resolution urging the State Department to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
Some Democratic critics said the legislation could be interpreted as a congressional authorization of military force against Iran, a concern dismissed by key sponsor, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an independent Democrat:
"There is no intention here to authorize the use of force against Iran," he said.
The Bush administration has been considering designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, which would subject the organization to economic and diplomatic sanctions.
The administration has blamed the Guard's foreign operations arm, the Quds force, of providing training and arms to Iraqi insurgents to attack U.S. troops, accusations that Iran has denied.