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US Senate Responds to Public Concern Over Iraq

A Senate vote this week on Iraq is the latest indication of growing public concern over the military situation there and the issue of when U.S. troops can begin coming home in large numbers.

Senate concern over Iraq was reflected in bipartisan support for a non-binding resolution put forward by the Republican majority urging Iraqis to shoulder responsibility for their own security next year.

The Republican measure did not set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Opposition Democrats sponsored their own resolution calling on the Bush administration to provide an estimated timetable for withdrawal, but that was defeated.

Still, Democrats are claiming victory for forcing the Senate to deal with the growing public concern over Iraq detailed in a host of recent opinion polls.

Senator Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, spoke on the Don Imus Show on MSNBC television.

"It is an indication of frustration that is felt, not only by Democrats but by Republicans, of how the war is going here," he said.

Traveling in Asia, President Bush said he welcomed the Senate's rejection of a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He also said his administration would be happy to comply with the bipartisan call for frequent reports on the political and military progress in Iraq.

"That is what Congress expects. They expect us to keep them abreast of a plan that is going to work," Mr. Bush said.

The latest poll by the Cable News Network, USA Today newspaper and the Gallup polling organization found that more than half of those surveyed favor withdrawing U.S. forces within the next year.

Mindful of indications that public support on Iraq continues to erode, Bush administration officials continue to cast the war in Iraq as but one battle in the larger war on terror.

"We must be careful not to give terrorists the false hope that if they can simply hold on long enough, that they can outlast us," said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The political rhetoric over Iraq and the continuing controversy over the use of prewar intelligence data to justify the invasion have intensified in recent days. President Bush recently accused Democrats of playing politics and hurting the war effort with their allegations.

But even some members of the president's Republican Party worry that the administration has become too sensitive to criticism on its handling of Iraq and the controversy over pre-war intelligence.

"The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and elsewhere and should not be demonized and condemned for disagreeing with them," said Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska who may run for president in 2008.

With Mr. Bush's public approval ratings at an all time low, political analysts see the president now embattled on several fronts, not just Iraq. They note high domestic fuel prices, the controversy over the government response to hurricane Katrina and the criminal indictment of former vice presidential aide Lewis Libby in the CIA leak case.

"He [Bush] has still got all sorts of other problems, which feed into the same story line that this is a party in power in the White House and in Congress that is having problems, has been in power too long," said John Fortier, a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "t also brings up questions, of course, about the war in Iraq and its wisdom and the deliberations in the White House about that."

Washington-based political analyst Stuart Rothenberg expects President Bush will continue to try and convince the public about the importance of staying in Iraq.

But Mr. Rothenberg told VOA's Encounter program that public opinion polls are making the president's task much harder.

"Part of the question is whether this president can regain his footing by talking about the larger war against terror, again, reminding people that Iraq is part of that," he said. "I think, for the American public over the last year, they have changed their mind and they now see Iraq as an isolated problem and as something that was not necessary whereas a year ago they thought it was part of the larger war. How they see that in another two or three years will determine how well this president is regarded."

Some key lawmakers from both parties now say the next few months will be crucial for the administration, both in terms of developments on the ground in Iraq and in rebuilding public support for the effort at home.