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Senators criticize Bush's plan for Iraq

WASHINGTON—A day after President Bush asked Congress to give his troop buildup in Iraq a chance to work, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-9, mostly along party lines, to oppose it.

Even though most Republicans on the panel voted against the nonbinding resolution, they joined Democrats in speaking out against the president's policy in an emotional debate before the vote. One after another, the senators called for a way to turn over responsibility to Iraqis and avoid more American deaths and casualties in the midst of heavy sectarian bloodletting in Baghdad.

The full Senate will continue the debate when it considers the resolution next week.

"We'd better be damn sure, all of us, before we put 22,000 more people in that grinder," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. He helped write the resolution and was the sole Republican who voted for it. "Maybe I'll be wrong, and maybe I'll have no political future, but I don't care about that," Hagel said. He told his colleagues that if they didn't want to make tough decisions, "go sell shoes."

The resolution says it's not in the national interest to increase military forces in Iraq. It suggests that the United States should transfer responsibility for security to Iraqis while American forces focus on such tasks as fighting terrorism.

Bush has called for adding 17,500 troops in Baghdad to hold down sectarian violence long enough for Iraq to achieve a political solution. He also plans to add 4,000 Marines in Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency. In his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, he pleaded, "Give it a chance to work."

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the chairman of the committee, said the resolution was the quickest way to try to stop a "tragic mistake"—the plan to send U.S. troops into the heart of Baghdad. "This is not designed to say, `Mr. President, ah-ha, you're wrong,'" he said. "This is designed to say, `Mr. President, please don't go do this.'"

Biden said he'd negotiate with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who offered a similar resolution against the military increase, about melding their language into one resolution to draw broader bipartisan support. Biden eliminated one word Wednesday that Republicans found objectionable, changing "escalating" the military force to "increasing" it.

Vice President Dick Cheney said in a CNN interview that a nonbinding resolution "won't stop us, and it would be, I think detrimental from the standpoint of the troops."

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., who has a son serving as a Marine in Iraq, strongly disagreed that the resolution undermines the troops.

"They are at the mercy of the people up here," he said. "They need to be used wisely."

Biden said the debate on Iraq was just beginning. He promised that his committee would consider Democratic proposals aimed at forcing a change of U.S. war plans.

Although Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted against the resolution, she first said, "I disagree with the president about the surge." She said she hoped the debate wouldn't be Republicans against Democrats, adding, "I think this is just the beginning."

Alaska is home to the 172nd Stryker Brigade, which was held over in Iraq last summer for four months during a previous troop increase to fight violence in Baghdad. Murkowski said some servicemen she talked to called it "whack a mole."

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the committee, voted against the resolution, saying it would show disunity and make it harder for Congress to work with the administration.

But he also said he was "not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed."

"Militarily, the plan may achieve initial success," Lugar said, but he added that it's doubtful that it could clear the way for a lasting peace.

He listed these reasons: "The unwillingness of the Iraqi government to confront Shia militias, the questionable loyalty of many Iraqi army and police units, the resilience of the Sunni insurgency, the meddling of Iran, the ineffectual history of our economic aid, and the political and military limits of our ability to hold indefinitely large swaths of urban landscape in hostile circumstances."


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.