Democrats are criticizing President Bush's latest decisions on military deployments in Iraq, based on recommendations of the U.S. military commander and senior U.S. diplomat in the country. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, Republicans supported the president, who approved a plan to reduce the length of U.S. troop deployments, but suspend force withdrawals from Iraq after July.
Appearing after President Bush announced his decisions at the White House, Democratic House and Senate leaders held a news conference in the U.S. Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referred to the week's testimony by U.S. Iraq commander General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and noted that after July, when the U.S. military surge force is withdrawn, U.S. troops in Iraq will still number about 140,000:
"This is not a so-called troop withdrawal pause," he said. "With today's announcement the president signaled to the American people that he has no intention of bringing home anymore troops. Instead he is leaving all the tough decisions to the only person that is going to have to make those tough decisions, the next president of the United States."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accuses the president of dragging the war out, and repeats the assertion that Iraq is diverting attention from Afghanistan, where Democrats say the real war on terrorism needs to be fought:
"When we know that the real war on terror is in Afghanistan, how can we have that real effort with a sustained effort in Iraq continuing?" she asked.
With Reid and Pelosi were representatives of two military veterans groups opposed to the president's Iraq policies
John Soltz is an Iraq war veteran who heads the VoteVets.org:
"For the president to stand up tonight and explain to the country that he is somehow going to lower troop levels from 15 months to 12 months starting August 1 is a direct misrepresentation of the truth," he said.
President Bush's decision on reducing deployments to 12 months would take effect on August 1, but would not affect U.S. forces already deployed on the front lines.
Bobby Muller, who heads Veterans for America, calls the decision effectively meaningless:
"Half of the front-line units in the Army [are] already deployed on 15 month deployments," he said. "The majority of the units scheduled to deploy throughout this year are not regular Army anymore. We are going to the domestic unit[s], we're going to the National Guard, the majority are going to be National Guard units who already served 12 month tours."
Republicans welcomed the president's decision, saying it will help reduce stress on U.S. forces.
They also focused on the testimony to Congress by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, with Republican Senator John Cornyn saying the pace of U.S. withdrawals must be based on conditions:
"We need to leave Iraq when it has the capability to govern and defend itself," he said. "That is because it is in our vital national security interests to do so."
Senate Republican Lindsey Graham pronounces as dead any new Democratic efforts to set any timetables:
"I think you would look pretty foolish right now to be quite honest to suggest that the Congress knows more than General Petraeus," he said.
But Democrats vow to continue their attempts to use legislation to impact the president's Iraq policies will continue, with Pelosi and Reid saying they will mount legislative efforts to formally mandate the amount of time troops must have between deployments, among other things.