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Troops add their voices to chorus calling for reversal of Iraq policy

WASHINGTON—Pressure on Congress intensified Tuesday to stop President Bush's plan to increase troops in Iraq, as some 1,000 active-duty soldiers and Marines urged lawmakers to support a quick withdrawal and anti-war groups planned to rally state legislatures.

Although most Democrats and some Republicans oppose Bush's 21,500-member troop increase, Congress isn't moving very fast to try to stop or alter the plan. Democratic leaders in both houses want their first step to be a resolution calling on lawmakers to go on record as being for or against Bush's Iraq plan.

Democrats say they have a solid Senate majority against the plan, including perhaps one dozen Republicans, so the resolution is effectively a symbolic vote of no confidence in Bush's war plan. Only after that vote will they look at ways to use Congress' power over funding as a hammer.

The Senate resolution will be introduced on Wednesday, but it was unlikely a vote would occur before Bush gives his State of the Union address next Tuesday night. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said Republicans would offer an alternative resolution.

House leaders plan to let the Senate go first, then vote on a similar resolution. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, planned to start hearings Wednesday about how Congress might use the threat of spending cutoffs to demand changes in policy, but they'll be closed so that lawmakers can consider classified information.

White House spokesman Tony Snow suggested that Congress would undermine U.S. interests if it votes for a no-confidence resolution.

"In an age of instant and global communication, what message does it send to the people who are fighting democracy in Iraq? And also, what message does it send to the troops?" Snow said.

Separately, Bush acknowledged setbacks in Iraq.

"I am frustrated with the progress," Bush said in an interview taped for telecast Tuesday on PBS's "NewsHour."

"A year ago, I felt pretty good about the situation. I felt like we were achieving our objective, which is a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself. No question, 2006 was a lousy year for Iraq," Bush said.

Also Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee examined the plight of Iraqi refugees. Some 1.7 million Iraqis have been driven from their homes, and hundreds of thousands have become refugees in Jordan, Syria and elsewhere.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, who chairs a subcommittee on immigration and refugees, called for more humanitarian aid for displaced Iraqis and refuge here for those who risked their lives to work for Americans in Iraq. Last year the United States admitted 202 Iraqi refugees, Kennedy said.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 active-duty servicemen and women who oppose the war sent an "appeal for redress" to Congress. Although they're duty-bound to carry out the president's orders, they have a legal right to use this means to express their views.

The statement, carried on the Web site, was signed by 1,080 troops as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the site. It urged Congress to support "the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq," adding, "Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price."

"Despite our best efforts, Iraq fell further into chaos," said Marine Corps Sgt. Liam Madden, wearing a jacket and tie for a press conference on the steps of a House office building. Madden said he believed that the war "benefits neither the United States nor Iraq, and especially not the American military.

"Our brothers are dying, and politicians are squabbling," he said. "If you are funding a war that puts them in harm's way, you are not supporting them."

"Somewhere those of us who represent the American people, and the American people themselves, must follow the lead of these men and women in uniform today and find a way to speak up and speak out about this unnecessary war," Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the group Progressive States Network planned a conference call on Wednesday with state legislators to try to start a grassroots campaign opposing the president's troop buildup plan.

"States have the power and authority to speak out on issues that will impact them and their citizens," Steve Doherty and David Sirota, chairmen of the group, said in a statement.

The influential Web-based pressure group is urging citizens to write their state lawmakers as well.

A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday showed that 61 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq. Some 60 percent of Republicans support Bush's plan and 33 percent oppose it. Among Democrats, 12 percent support it and 82 percent oppose it. Among independents, 31 percent support the plan, and 62 percent oppose.

The Senate hearings on Iraqi refugees took on a personal tone when a 27-year-old former translator for U.S. forces in Iraq, who used a pseudonym and sat hidden behind a folding screen, told senators about the dangerous work he did as a translator—including working in plain sight of Iraqis who covertly sided with terrorists.

He said he knew of many Iraqis who were tortured and publicly killed as examples of what could happen to those who helped Americans. He said he resigned after working more than a year for U.S. forces and receiving death threats. He received special immigrant status in the United States in June.


(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Margaret Talev contributed to this report.)


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