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Democrats Criticize Bush Ahead of State of the Union Address

Members of Congress are praising Iraqis who turned out for Sunday's election. At the same time, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have sharply criticized President Bush on foreign and domestic issues, ahead of his State of the Union address on Wednesday.

It is traditional for the opposition to challenge a president on key issues prior to a State of the Union address, in addition to issuing a formal response afterward.

In remarks Monday, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi praised the courage of the Iraqi people in the election on Sunday, and the contribution of U.S. troops.

But in complimenting what she called a significant step toward Iraqi self-determination, she returned to a theme Democrats have been sounding, the need to begin developing some kind of strategy for drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq.

"Now, it is time to take the additional steps that will improve Iraq's economic and political stability, and allow our troops to come home," added Ms. Pelosi. "That means changing our military focus from combat operations to training the Iraqi army. This action is long overdue."

The Iraqi election has given President Bush significant momentum going into his State of the Union address, in conjunction with the theme of his inaugural address about spreading liberty.

On the floor of the Senate, Republican majority leader Bill Frist took the lead in praising the Iraqi election result.

"Yesterday, in Iraq, we saw that liberty can light even the darkest corners, and inspire great acts of bravery. We saw the proof of our deepest principle, that all people aspire to be free," said Mr. Frist.

Mindful of the momentum, Democrats are taking care to say they are fully supportive of U.S. troops and their mission in Iraq.

But Democratic Senator Harry Reid was more direct in challenging President Bush to offer a clearer vision for Iraq when he speaks to the nation on Wednesday:

"The president needs to spell out a real and understandable plan for the unfinished work ahead, defeat the growing insurgency, rebuild Iraq, increase political participation by all parties, especially Iraq's moderates, and increase international involvement," he said. "But most of all, we need an exit strategy, so we know what victory is and how we can get there, so we know what we need to do, and so we know when the job is done."

The Senate minority leader also hammered away at President Bush with a point Democrats tried to use in their unsuccessful effort to defeat President Bush in November's election, the war on terrorism.

"The war on terrorism has been placed on the back burners [put aside], while the Bush administration spends its time and energy putting out fires in Iraq," he said. "President Bush said he would capture Osama Bin Laden, dead or alive. But more than a thousand days later, this terrorist thug remains alive and on the loose. We need to give our troops and our intelligence services all the resources they need to do their job and bring bin Laden to justice."

Key Democrats have distanced themselves from remarks by Senator Edward Kennedy, who said in a speech last week the United States should start withdrawing troops soon after the Iraqi election.

In their remarks Monday, neither of the congressional Democratic leaders chose to align themselves with Senator Kennedy, but Mr. Reid described the election as a first step that could allow the United States to find ways to remove itself with dignity.

On domestic issues, Democrats took full aim at President Bush's proposals to partially privatize social security. Mrs. Pelosi said Democrats will not support, what she called, the president's effort to place a tax on the future of Americans.