The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has held its first round of budget hearings on the Bush administration's request for additional military funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.  The $100 billion request would help pay for additional U.S. troops in Iraq. Opposition Democrats are strongly against the increase and they grilled the president's top advisers Tuesday.  VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

The budget hearings pose the most serious challenge yet to the president's Iraq war strategy.  Addressing the president's top advisers, the panel's chairman, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, railed against what he called the "failed policy" in Iraq.

"Under the presidents plan, there is no end, I say, no end in sight, no plan for redeployment; no plan for diplomacy; no plan for engaging our international partners for improved security in the region,? said the senator. ?All the president has requested is more money -- more money -- for military force and more money for ineffective reconstruction efforts."

At stake is $100 billion the president says is needed in part to send six additional Army brigades to Baghdad and Anbar Province. 

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says the money is needed to ensure the success of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. "If these additional funds are delayed, the military will be forced to engage in costly and counterproductive reprogramming actions starting this spring, in April, to make up the shortfall.  Timely enactment of this supplemental request is critical to ensuring our troops in the field have the resources they need."

The supplemental request of $93.4 billion is in addition to the $70 billion already appropriated for war-related costs this year.  Along with the funding request was a major shift in the administration's diplomatic policy.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the senators that the U.S. was preparing to engage Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, in talks aimed at stabilizing the region.

"The violence occurring within the country has a decided impact on Iraq's neighbors,? the secretary told the senators. ?And Iraq's neighbors as well as the international community have a clear role to play in supporting the Iraqi government's efforts to promote peace and national reconciliation within the country."

The White House has accused Iran and Syria of promoting secular violence in Iraq by allowing weapons and foreign fighters into the country.  Despite the new diplomatic overture, the president's request for increased war funding is expected to face heavy scrutiny when the budget appropriation hearings resume.