The House of Representatives is engaged in a marathon debate on Iraq, with Democrats and Republicans facing off over how to support the Iraqi government and fight global terrorism. Both houses of Congress took note of the 2,500th U.S. military death in Iraq.
As Congress observed a moment of silence on the news that the U.S. death toll in Iraq surpassed the 2,500 mark, the House undertook, for only the second time since coalition forces invaded in 2003, a major debate focusing specifically on Iraq.
A single non-binding resolution, written by the Republican majority, states that the United States will prevail in Iraq and the global war on terrorism, and rejects any premature withdrawal or redeployment of troops.
Republicans asserted that Democrats lack any coherent policy on Iraq, and as House Speaker Dennis Hastert put it, support the troops but not the mission.
"The clarity with which our men and women in uniform understand the reason they are in Iraq is a stark contrast to some here at home who talk about this war as a war of choice," said Dennis Hastert.
In response, Democrats such a Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern called the debate a charade and renewed longstanding charges about what they call Bush administration incompetence in handling Iraq.
"We will not be having a real debate on Iraq today," said Jim McGovern. "It will be a pretend debate, one that will have absolutely no effect on U.S. policy."
Other than regular spending bills and a series of emergency measures, the last time the House focused specifically on Iraq policy was last year.
Republicans forced Democrats to debate a resolution proposing that U.S. forces withdraw immediately from Iraq - an attempt to blunt the impact of Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a Vietnam war veteran who called for U.S. forces to be redeployed from Iraq within six months.
Democrats turned to Murtha again on Thursday.
"Rhetoric does not answer the problem," said John Murtha. "Only the Iraqis can solve the problem in Iraq. They're fighting with each other and our troops are caught in between, and I say it's time to redeploy."
Republicans responded by citing security threats since the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks, and successes such as the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as well as successful elections in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congressman Mike Rogers took aim at Democrats on the question of any withdrawal timetable:
"President Bush met with the Shia, the Sunnis, the Kurds just recently, just this last week, and none of them, even the Sunnis, wanted the U.S. to leave," said Mike Rogers. "As a matter of fact, they asked for reassurance that we would stay with them in this difficult and tough struggle for freedom. And that would leave only the terrorists who want an early American withdrawal, and some politicians in this town."
The 10-hour House debate occurred as opinion polls show significant pessimism among Americans about the military situation in Iraq, and continuing low approval ratings for President Bush on the issue.
Iraq was also the focus of emotional debate in the Republican-controlled Senate Thursday where lawmakers considered amendments to defense authorization legislation, and gave final approval to almost $70 billion in emergency funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.