House squares off in debate on Iraq

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers squared off on Tuesday over President George W. Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq, with Democrats declaring Americans had lost faith in the war and Republicans warning against undermining the U.S. struggle with terrorism.

Democrats in the House of Representatives began three days of debate on a two-sentence resolution opposing Bush’s decision to sent 21,500 more combat troops to Iraq. The measure would not force the president to change course, but would be the first time lawmakers have challenged him directly on the war.

“The American people have lost faith in the president’s course in Iraq, and they are demanding a new direction,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said as she opened the debate.

Pelosi said the vote would show whether lawmakers had heard the message voters sent in November elections that current policies on the war “have not worked, will not work, and must be changed.” The elections propelled Democrats to the majority in both the Senate and House.

In the sometimes emotional debate, in which both sides sought to show off their military veterans, Republican leaders argued that far more than Iraq was at stake if the United States brought its troops home right away.

Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio warned that to leave Iraq now would be to give free rein to Iran in the region and leave Israel particularly vulnerable. Iraq, he said, was only part of a global fight against “radical Islamic terrorists.”

Boehner wiped tears from his face with a handkerchief at a press conference when Republican Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas told of being a prisoner of war in Vietnam and hearing his captors blare over loudspeakers the news of anti-war sentiment back in the United States.

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Democrats, meanwhile, gave reporters a copy of a Republican letter in which they urged fellow Republicans to focus their debate on the “global threat of the radical Islamist movement” instead of trying to defend the current situation in Iraq.

The measure, which has sponsors in both parties, is expected to pass in a vote on Friday with the support of most Democrats, as well as some Republicans who have growing doubts about the nearly 4-year-old war, which has taken more than 3,100 American lives.


The proposal could then move to the Senate.

The new USA Today/Gallup Poll said Americans overwhelmingly support congressional action to cap the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and bring them home by the end of next year.

House Democrats pledged to take further action on Iraq. They are expected to try to put restrictions on $100 billion in additional funds Bush has requested for the war -- requiring, for example, that soldiers go to Iraq only after being certified as fully trained and equipped.

“Congress will be dealing with the Iraq issue for months to come, in fact, for as long as it takes to end this nightmare,” said Rep. Tom Lantos, the California Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The House debate may have goaded the Senate into action after the chamber last week deadlocked on the Iraq issue.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he wanted to bring the text of the House resolution to the Senate floor for debate the week after next.

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan