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Senate resolution calls for decreasing U.S. presence in Iraq

WASHINGTON—Gen. Tommy Franks told Congress on Thursday that American troops may have to remain in Iraq up to four years as the Senate, in a unanimous vote, called on President Bush to seek help from NATO to reduce the U.S. military presence there.

Franks, who commanded American troops during the Iraq war, said he expected the U.S. troop strength of about 148,000 service members to remain unchanged until next year. He said American troops were being attacked 10 to 25 times a day. Two more U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday in Iraq and at least 31 American service members have been killed by hostile fire since May 1, when Bush declared major combat at an end.

The Senate vote, though the resolution doesn't have the force of law, illustrates the growing belief among lawmakers that the United States needs more allies to help police Iraq and that the administration is reluctant to seek assistance, particularly from NATO. Lawmakers think the administration is especially reluctant to work with NATO members France and Germany, which opposed the war.

The criticism, from Republicans and Democrats alike, is growing louder amid the almost-daily reports of American casualties.

"I don't want every kid blown up at a checkpoint being an American soldier," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the resolution's author. "This is the world's problem, not just ours."

The resolution says Bush should "consider requesting formally and expeditiously that NATO raise a force for the deployment in postwar Iraq similar to what it has done in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, traveling Thursday with Bush in Africa, downplayed an immediate role for NATO. He noted that individual NATO members, such as England, Spain, Italy and Poland, already are contributing troops.

"In the course of the summer, we'll be discussing with NATO whether there is a broader role that the alliance can play," Powell said.

Though the resolution passed by a solidly bipartisan 97-0, Democratic presidential candidates seized the worrisome trend of events in Iraq as an opportunity to challenge Bush's policies there.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and presidential contender who voted for the congressional resolution last fall that authorized war with Iraq, criticized the U.S. postwar occupation there.

"It is time for the president to tell the truth that we lack sufficient forces to do the job of reconstruction in Iraq and withdraw in a reasonable time," Kerry said. "America should not go it alone."

Other Democratic presidential candidates also weighed in.

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida said he held Bush responsible for relying on faulty intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as the White House acknowledged early this week that it had done.

In New Hampshire, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said any Bush aide who failed to tell the president that intelligence about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction was false should resign, even if that aide turned out to be Vice President Dick Cheney.

Franks' testimony, the Senate vote and the Democratic candidates' piling on came a day after Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Senate committee that sustaining U.S. forces in Iraq costs nearly $4 billion a month. The developments reflect the mounting pressure on Bush to alter his approach to Iraq.

In Africa, Bush conceded that the United States hasn't gained complete control in parts of Iraq and cautioned that securing the country will take time.

"There's no question we've got a security issue in Iraq, and we're just going to have to deal with (it) person by person. We're going to have to remain tough," he said.

"We haven't been there long. We've been there for 90 to 100 days. We're making steady progress. A free Iraq will mean a peaceful world. And it's very important for us to stay the course, and we will stay the course," the president said.

Ninety percent of the troops in Iraq are American. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would prefer that no more than two-thirds of troops be American. U.S. troops would be safer, Levin said, if they wore the NATO patch and were part of a broader international force.

In his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Franks tried to dispel the image of U.S. troops as sitting ducks.

"There's another reason that we see constant violence," he said. "Part of the reason for that is that we go out looking for it. We have our people every day not sitting in base camps but rather out looking to find the Baathists, looking to find the jihadis, looking to find these people who cross the border from Syria and are hell-bent on creating difficulty."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.