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President's Iraq Plan Faces Bipartisan Critics in Congress

President Bush's call for more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops in Iraq is facing scrutiny in both houses of Congress, where the Democratic Party is now in control. But as VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports, critics of Mr. Bush's new Iraq plan include members of his own Republican Party.

In a hearing controlled by the new Democratic Party majority, it was Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations committee who indicated the degree of opposition to President Bush's call for a troop surge.

Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, said: "I'm not prepared, at this time, to support that."

Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, stated: "I am skeptical that a surge of troops will bring an end to the escalation of violence and the insurgency."

Senator Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, added: "I will resist it." Hagel said the president's call for a troop surge, if carried out, would represent the most dangerous U.S. foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.

In an exchange with the senator, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied that the additional troops would represent an escalation of the war. "I don't see it, and the president doesn't see it, as an escalation. What he sees..."

Senator Hagel interrupted: "Putting 22,000 new troops, more troops in, is not an escalation?"

To which Ms. Rice responded: "Well, I think, Senator, escalation is not just a matter of how many numbers you put in. Escalation is also a question of, are you changing the strategic goal of what you're trying to do? Are you escalating.”

Senator Hagel asked: "Would you call it a decrease, and billions of dollars more that you need."

"I would call it, Senator, an augmentation that allows the Iraqis to deal with this very serious problem that they have in Baghdad," said the secretary.

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Minnesota said Congress should put an end to America's involvement in what he called a "disastrous war." "It is time to use the power of the purse to bring our troops out of Iraq. Over the next several weeks, I, and I hope many of my colleagues, will work together to take a hard look at exactly how we should do that, but it is time to use that power."

But at a separate hearing in the House Armed Services Committee, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California said he plans to support President Bush's plan. "I think the Baghdad plan offers a bolder use of Iraqi military forces and an innovative use of American forces."

President Bush argues that an early withdrawal from Iraq would seriously damage America's strategic interests. He elaborated on his call for a troop increase in an address to soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia.

"The mission is to clear and secure Iraqi neighborhoods, help Iraqis protect the local population, and to ensure that the Iraqi forces that are left behind will be capable of providing the security necessary in the capital of Iraq," said the president.

The House Armed Services Committee asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates what would happen if the Iraqis fail to honor their commitments. He said, "The president has made it very clear, both in his speech last night and in his talks with the Iraqi government, that American patience is limited, and obviously, if the Iraqis fail to maintain their commitments, we will have to revisit our strategy."

Congress will be reviewing the administration's Iraq policy in a series of hearings in coming weeks. Lawmakers could deny funds in an attempt to stop President Bush's troop increase.