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Bush Failed to Lay Out Plan in Iraq, say Congressional Democrats

Congressional Democrats are criticizing President Bush's speech on Iraq, saying he failed to detail a strategy for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Congressional Democrats say Mr. Bush's address did not offer a realistic assessment of the situation in Iraq, nor did it offer a plan for the future.

In his speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the president highlighted progress in the training of Iraqi security forces. He said as Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, the United States will be able to decrease its troop levels. But he rejected setting a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal, saying it would send the wrong signal to U.S. allies and embolden the insurgents.

Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Bush did not paint a realistic picture of Iraqi troops' readiness.

"I think he was overly optimistic," Senator Reed said. "He failed to point out some of the internal tensions within the Iraqi security. First of all, it is going to be a very difficult challenge to build a truly national Iraqi security force. There are ethnic divisions, there are battalions that are almost exclusively Kurdish or Shi'ia. It is not yet a coherent, fully integrated national army. That is a long task ahead."

Even one key Republican, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says Mr. Bush needs to be more specific in addressing the readiness of Iraqi forces.

While praising the president's speech, Senator Lugar says he hopes Mr. Bush will discuss the issue on future occasions.

"This is something that really needs to be discussed," Mr. Lugar said. "What are the components of the Iraqi security forces? How do they interact with each other? Is there some central command that is Iraqi as opposed to the United States? Is there any coordination, as a matter of fact, between security forces town by town, as these towns are secured?"

Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who challenged Mr. Bush for the White House in last year's election, said victory in Iraq cannot be achieved solely through military means. He said the president's speech did not address the need to include support from Iraq's neighbors.

"There ought to be a much greater diplomatic leverage in the region," Senator Kerry said.

The top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, said Mr. Bush failed to offer a clear exit strategy from Iraq.

"The president provided no specifics on how or when the number of troops would be reduced," Ms. Pelosi said. "With more than 2,100 American soldiers killed, thousands more wounded grievously, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the president owes the American people more than he provided today."

Mr. Bush has been under pressure from lawmakers to offer a detailed strategy in Iraq, amid public opinion polls that show a majority of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war.

Congressman Jack Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and a decorated military veteran, has called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops as soon as possible. He estimates a withdrawal could be completed over a period of six months.

Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who is said to be considering running for president in 2008, has called for a troop withdrawal to begin this year.

But many other Democrats are opposed to setting a timetable for a troop pullout.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is among them. He addressed the issue in an interview with VOA's Press Conference USA program.

"I think a timetable set here in Washington by politicians would be a terrible idea," he said. "We have a lot on the line, the world [and], in my opinion, certainly the Iraqis have a lot on the line, in our successfully completing our mission in Iraq."

Senator Lieberman recently returned from a visit to Iraq, where he met with U.S. military commanders and troops and members of the elected Iraqi government.