Monday, February 19, 2007

Democrats vow new challenge to Bush over Iraq

Democrats vow new challenge to Bush over Iraq
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leading U.S. Democrats vowed on Sunday to seek a revision in President George W. Bush's 2002 authorization to wage war in Iraq, as a way to raise pressure for a change in strategy.

Undeterred by Senate Republicans who blocked a resolution opposing Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, Democrats in control of Congress pledged to challenge Bush anew by seeking a mandate that the mission of U.S. troops does not include interceding in a civil war.

"We'll be looking at modification of that (war) authorization in order to limit the mission of American troops to a support mission instead of a combat mission," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat told "Fox News Sunday."

With the safety of U.S. troops already in Iraq at stake, Levin said there was little appetite in Congress to end funding for the unpopular war.

The war, fueled by an unrelenting insurgency and sectarian violence, already dominates the 2008 White House race.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden said Congress should "repeal and restate" Bush's war authority and make clear that the U.S. mission in Iraq is to protect against al Qaeda gaining territory and to train Iraqi forces.

Biden, a Delaware Democrat and presidential hopeful, spoke on CBS television's "Face the Nation."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, called the Iraq war "the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country."

"We find ourselves in a very deep hole. We need to find a way to dig out of it," Reid told CNN's "Late Edition."

Last week the House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution against Bush's plans to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq to enhance security in Baghdad and Anbar province. But Bush's fellow Republicans in the Senate used procedural tactics to block the measure on Saturday.

In October 2002, Congress authorized Bush to take military action in Iraq primarily because of what the administration charged was a threat of weapons of mass destruction.

No such weapons were found after the March 2003 invasion, but the administration said U.S. troops would remain to help Iraq become a democracy.

Rewriting Bush's war authorization would be "a very discouraging signal," said Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, who spoke to Reuters from Israel after a weekend visit to Iraq.

"To say the U.S. can't engage in any combat operations would doom this entire effort," he said.

Supporting Bush's new plan -- which includes more American troops and a greater involvement by Iraqi forces -- was a way to show support for U.S. troops already in Iraq by sending them needed reinforcements, White House spokesman Tony Snow said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a potential presidential candidate who has broken with most fellow Republicans in opposing the troop buildup, told NBC that he was open to considering a proposal that would attach strings to future funding.

"We need to have that debate," Hagel said of the proposal, by Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, to require that troops sent to Iraq be fully trained and equipped and to set time limits on combat assignments.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, accused Democrats during an appearance on CNN of planning to buck public opinion and try to cut funding for U.S. troops.

Democrats may consider funding issues in the future but will "never compromise the ability of American soldiers to protect themselves," Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, told NBC.

(Additional reporting by David Wiessler, Missy Ryan, and Susan Cornwell)