Democratic Senator James Webb called for a new direction in Iraq, one based on regional diplomacy, in his party's official response to President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Senator Webb, an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, urged a new way forward in Iraq, one that would allow U.S. troops to begin withdrawing.

"We need a new direction,"said Senator Webb. " Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."

Senator Webb's son is serving in Iraq, and his Marine unit has just been extended another two months.

Webb himself is a decorated combat Marine who served in the Vietnam War. He is a one-time Republican who served as Navy Secretary under President Reagan.

Webb's close race for the Virginia Senate seat against incumbent Republican Senator George Allen last November was the last of the Senate contests to be decided, and his victory handed Democrats control of the chamber.

The senator called the war's costs to the United States staggering - financially, and in terms of the damage done to the U.S. reputation around the world, lost opportunities to defeat the forces of terrorism, and U.S. casualties. He blamed the president for ignoring advice from national security officials.

"The President took us into this war recklessly," he said. "He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed."

As the senator delivered the Democrats' response, the second highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, Congressman Roy Blunt, issued a statement appealing for support for Mr. Bush and U.S. troops as they work for success in Iraq.

But Republicans are divided on Iraq. Some key members of the party - including the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia - oppose President Bush's decision to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq.

Senator Warner is a co-sponsor of one of two bipartisan resolutions expressing disapproval of the troop increase - reflecting public opinion polls that show a majority of Americans also opposing such an increase. The other resolution - co-sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware - will come up for debate and possible vote before the panel Wednesday.