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US Democrats Step Up Pressure for Change of Iraq Policy

Democratic congressional leaders made new appeals Monday for minority Republicans to abandon President Bush's military strategy in Iraq. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, one of the president's harshest critics in the House of Representatives shed some more light on his party's legislative approach in coming weeks, as the Senate began consideration of defense legislation and expected Iraq-related amendments.

Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha used a speech at the National Press Club to deliver an in-depth response to the report delivered to Congress last week by U.S. Iraq commander General David Petraeus.

Chairman of a key defense appropriations subcommittee, Murtha asserts that rather than taking immediate action to change what he called a flawed policy in Iraq, the president now appears content to run out the clock.

Comparing the situation in Iraq to the war in Vietnam, he says the ability of the United States to affect events through military power is limited, and challenges what he describes as attempts by the president to distort reality. "Rhetoric-spinned slogans do not win wars. Likewise, the war in Iraq will not be won with charts, projections or sound bytes saying we will [get] return on success," he said.

In coming weeks, the Senate will take up regular defense legislation for the 2008 fiscal year, which will then have to be reconciled with a House version, as well as a separate Iraq-Afghanistan war funding measure from the president for billions of more dollars.

While predicting the House will again approve provisions calling for a specific timetable for an accelerated U.S. withdrawal, Murtha responded this way when asked about the likelihood of additional Senate and House Republicans moving away from the president's position on Iraq.

"As soon as the [2008 presidential] primaries are over you are going to see Republicans jumping ship. Base Republicans are supporting the president. The minute that primary is over, you will see these guys jumping ship," he said.

As the Senate began consideration of a defense policy measure Monday, including numerous Iraq-related amendments, Democratic leader Harry Reid issued his own appeal to Republicans.

"It is long past time for those Republicans who have expressed to this endless war to work with us to find a way to end it. Otherwise, this is not only Bush's war but the war of the Republican senators as well."

Republican Senator Jon Kyl used a floor speech to urge Senate lawmakers to unite behind the president's approach, including what Mr. Bush called the need for an enduring relationship with Iraq.

"There may be a point in having U.S. troops in the region and even in the country of Iraq. Our hope, and I am sure this is shared by all of us on both sides of the aisle in this body, is that as the troop surge continues to succeed, we can draw down the number of those troops to the point that it is not a strain on the U.S. military and the danger to the troops there is greatly diminished."

In endorsing General Petraeus' report last week, President Bush supported a plan to withdraw as many as 30,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the middle of next year.

However, this would only lower troop levels to what they were before the president's military surge plan.

The most vocal anti-war Democrats and other critics say this will demand even stronger efforts by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to accelerate the withdrawal process.