Congress poised for showdown with Bush over Iraq strategy

CONGRESS dug in its heels for a showdown with President George W. Bush next week, after key senators drafted a bipartisan resolution on Wednesday rebuking his Iraq war strategy.

As the Senate careened towards High Noon, Democrat leaders upped the pressure with Bills to stop the escalation of US troops in Iraq.

The Bush administration – fearing that more Republicans from both chambers would jump ship – has struck back, saying it will not budge and that any resistance to the new plan would aid terrorists.

“The President has obligations as commander-in-chief and he will go ahead and execute them,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

“What message does Congress intend to give? And who does it think the audience is? Is the audience merely the President? Is it the voting American public or, in an age of instant communication, is it also Al-Qaeda?”

Democrats Joseph Biden, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Carl Levin proposed the Senate resolution. Significantly, Republican senators Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe joined them to forge an emerging united front in the Senate.

Mr Hagel said: “I will do everything I can to stop the President’s policy. I think it is dangerously irresponsible.”

The resolution says that Washington cannot sustain an open-ended commitment to Iraq, that the chief responsibility for quelling unrest there rests with Iraqi security forces and that the US should seek a political solution.

Mr Biden said his panel would debate the measure next Wednesday – a day after the President’s State of the Union address. Debate on the floor could take place as early as that week, following a committee review.

Clearly, there is still Republican opposition to troop cuts, and Senate Democrats will need at least 10 Republicans to get the 60 votes needed to bring the resolution to a vote.

Mr Biden said there could be “modest changes” to the Bill “to attract those who share our view but may not like our specific language”.

Undoubtedly, the measure – especially with the backing of key Republicans – will open the door for others in Mr Bush’s party to challenge his dream of making Iraq an oasis of freedom and democracy.

It also sends a strong message to the White House that opponents of the war could seek new ways to limit troops or block military funding.

The Democrats are brimming with ideas to stop a plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.

Among them, Senator Hillary Clinton, a front runner in next year’s presidential elections, has put forward a Bill requiring the President to get congressional approval for more troops in Iraq

Fresh from trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, she said: “I do not support cutting funding for American troops but I do support cutting funding for Iraqi forces if the Iraqi government does not meet set conditions.”

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