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House Lawmakers React to Bush Iraq Plan

As Bush administration and U.S. military officials faced skeptical lawmakers on Capitol Hill, some of the strongest criticisms of the president's military surge in Iraq came from some new members of Congress.

While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the president's plan before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, four newly elected congressmen, all Democrats, appeared before television cameras and microphones to express disappointment in the plan.

Patrick Murphy, is an Iraq war veteran who defeated a Republican candidate in his home district in Pennsylvania.

"The reality on the ground is this: By putting more troops into Iraq, [it] does not do anything to find a solution to what is needed there, and that is for the Iraqis come off the sidelines, and fight for their country, fight for their government, protect their neighborhoods, not to rely on the American forces," he said.

Chris Carney, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, opposes sending additional U.S. troops, and questions whether the Iraqi government can meet the commitments President Bush says he received.

"To put so much credibility in the Maliki regime, I think is dangerous," he said. "This is a regime that has proven that it cannot withstand the political pressures of the realities in Iraq, and we must start finding people we can work with in that country to represent our interests."

As part of the Democratic majority in the House, the lawmakers say they are prepared to ask tough questions so Congress can carry out proper oversight regarding Iraq.

Tim Walz is a Democrat from Minnesota:

"The questions are going to be asked," he said. "This is a different Congress. The questions that the American people asked and the message they sent on November 7 are being echoed here today, and we will continue to do so."

But not all say they are prepared to support aggressive proposals, such as one by Senator Edward Kennedy to require Congress to approve any increase in troop numbers for Iraq.

Congressman Murphy says he is not yet persuaded such a step would be wise, and remains hopeful the president will, as he puts it, understand the fervor of the new Congress and Americans.

Joe Sestak, another Pennsylvania Democrat, believes the United States must set a date for withdrawing U.S. forces.

"That date is the only remaining leverage we have over the Shi'ites, the Kurds, the Sunnis, the parties in that country, to accept that they must make a political decision in what is not a military issue," he said. "This is a political civil war."

The views contrasted with Republican Minority Leader John Boehner, who asserts the United States needs to do whatever is needed to ensure success:

"Victory here is essential, and whether that is more troops [or] less troops, we need the number of troops necessary," he noted.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Peter Pace, Chairman of the [military] Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to reassure worried House lawmakers:

"This military plan, properly part of new political emphasis and new economic plus-up can provide the success we are looking for," he said.

The Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton, sought assurances from General Pace and Secretary Gates, the Bush administration would re-visit its strategy if the Iraqi government does not keep to its commitments.