Democrats to challenge Bush’s plan

WASHINGTON (AFP) —  US Democrats forged ahead Sunday with plans to introduce a resolution in Congress condemning President George W. Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq, where the US toll rose sharply.

Leading Democratic senators expressed the hope that the bill, while nonbinding, might still sway Bush to rethink his unpopular decision to send 21,500 extra soldiers to Iraq.

“It will be a very powerful message if a bipartisan majority of the Congress say that they disagree with the increased military involvement in Iraq,” Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told “Fox News Sunday.” Bush, meanwhile, was expected in his annual State of the Union speech Tuesday to defend his new strategy in Iraq, as he lays out his priorities with just two years left in office.

Speaking for the first time to a US Congress controlled by opposition Democrats, the Republican president will seek to anchor the war in the more broadly backed global war on terrorism and warn of the price of failure. The bipartisan Senate resolution, which was expected to go to the floor mid-week, says that it is not in the national interest to escalate the US military presence in Iraq and slams Bush’s overall handling of the war.

“His policy has been a failure right from the beginning. It was poorly thought out. It was poorly implemented. And deepening military involvement now is not the answer,” Levin said.

“Even the prime minister of Iraq has acknowledged that it is the failure of the political leaders in Iraq that are the cause of this violence, and without their coming together, there is no end to it,” he said.

The Senate resolution, which also has the support of Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel, is among several Senate proposals being floated to express varying degrees of displeasure with Bush’s plan.

“The issue is there’s a civil war,” Democratic Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News.

“That’s what we have. That’s what the president has to deal with. And he’s doing it the exact wrong way,” Biden said.

“He’s not listening to his military. He’s not listening to his old secretaries of state. He’s not listening to his old friends. He’s not listening to anybody but (Vice President Dick) Cheney, and Cheney is dead-wrong.” As Democrats and Bush prepared for a political battle this week, Americans endured one of their deadliest days in since the March 2003 invasion as 25 troops were killed Saturday. Some 3,050 US soldiers have died.

Democrats have said their November election victory against Bush’s Republicans was a call by voters angry over the war for Washington to change course in Iraq.

Senator Hillary Clinton, just back last week from a trip to Iraq, reiterated her support for a bill that would cap the number of US troops in Iraq and heavily criticised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Clinton, a presidential hopeful, told CNN in an interview broadcast Sunday that the US government should threaten to cut funding for Iraq’s forces to prod Baghdad into stepping up its efforts to control raging sectarian violence.

Asked if she thought Maliki could bring security back to Iraq, Clinton said “I don’t have any faith” that he can.

She said in the interview taped Thursday that it was uncertain “whether there’s a gap between his intentions and his will … or whether he’s doing what he intends to do.” While Clinton has refused to use the power of the purse strings to pressure the Bush administration, she said it should be applied on the Iraqi government.

“So why don’t we tell the Maliki regime that we will cut funding to their forces — including the private security forces that provide the security for members of that government — if they don’t start demonstrating a willingness and a capacity to do what we all know needs to be done?” Clinton said.

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