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Iraq Concerns Result in Divisive Debate in US House of Representatives

Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives have engaged in often angry debate over a Republican resolution congratulating Iraqis on their election, but also rejecting a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. The House approved the resolution by a vote of 279 to 109.

The resolution calls the December 15 election a crucial victory for the Iraqi people, and a defeat for terrorists trying to destroy Iraq's new democracy.

It opposes any artificial timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, immediately terminating their deployment in Iraq, or sending them elsewhere in the region.

That was a direct reference to the position taken by Democratic Congressman John Murtha, later backed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to redeploy U.S. forces within six months. It also reflects President Bush's position opposing any timetable.

Republicans had earlier rejected an alternative document offered by Democrats congratulating Iraqis and paying tribute to U.S. and Iraqi military forces, but not containing language about a timetable.

Democrats accused the Republican leadership of using the resolution to create further divisions over the future course in Iraq.

"The leadership cynically chose to push a partisan resolution that they knew would split the House, would split the American people, and send a mixed message, not a unified message, to our troops in harms way," said Texas Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards.

Former Republican House Leader Tom DeLay used the opportunity to respond to Democrats he said sought to avoid a war that has now enabled Iraqis to move toward democracy.

"They point to the war's costs, its difficulties, and our setbacks," said Mr. DeLay. "And despite the catastrophic consequences of failure, [they] call for a immediate retreat and surrender. Well, not us Mr. Speaker. This resolution reaffirms our commitment to victory, our commitment to the freedom and security of the Iraqi people, and our commitment to victory in Iraq and the broader war on terror."

Parallel to this debate, lawmakers also faced off over a separate issue involving the question of U.S. treatment of terrorist suspects.

House Democrats want to include language in pending defense spending legislation to require the Bush administration to provide Congress with a classified report on the controversial issue of secret prisons or other facilities in Eastern Europe.

"While the administration has publicly stated that Americans do not torture, and that the United States does not secretly move terrorism suspects to foreign countries that torture to get information, Congress has a fundamental responsibility to verify these claims on behalf of the American people," added Congressman Ike Skelton, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, who heads the Armed Services Committee responded:

"I think this is a somewhat dangerous thing that we're doing right now, we are responding to newspaper articles, we are talking about an issue that is not within the jurisdiction of this committee, and we are implying in this response, if we have a positive vote, that somehow there has been an inadequacy, somehow people haven't been briefed about ongoing operations around the world, somehow there is a breakdown in our process, and I think that is precisely the wrong message to be sending," noted Congressman Hunter.

By a vote of 228 to 187, the House agreed to insert the language concerning secret prisons into the House-Senate conference report on defense bills.