Bush defiant in face of anti-war demonstrations

White House increasingly isolated as even the Republicans join condemnation of 'surge'
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The Independent US

As thousands of demonstrators protested against the Iraq war outside the Capitol yesterday, top Congressional Republicans have warned President George Bush that his controversial troop increase has a few months at the very most to show results.

The threat that his own party will turn against him is the clearest sign yet of the intensifying pressure on Mr Bush after the cool reaction to his State of the Union plea to lawmakers to "give a chance" to his plan to send 21,500 more troops to Baghdad and al-Anbar province, seat of the Sunni insurgency.

But the public overwhelmingly opposes the plan, by a majority of two to one, while the Iraq débâcle has driven down Mr Bush's approval rating to barely 30 per cent, a level rarely reached since Richard Nixon at the height of Watergate.

The "bring the troops home" rally, held in brilliant sunshine on the Washington Mall, was intended to highlight not only the 3,100 US troops who have died, but also the countless thousands of Iraqi civilian dead.

On the lawn where protesters gathered, stood a giant transparent bin filled with shoes, each tagged with the name of an Iraqi and details of how he or she died. Mr Bush's troop surge plan was "nonsense," said Scott Smith, a demonstrator with a son serving in Iraq; it was up to Congress to block it.

Among scheduled speakers yesterday was Jane Fonda, who led public protest against the Vietnam war four decades ago, and Hollywood stars Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon, and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. The only 2008 presidential candidate present was Ohio's Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who campaigned on an anti- war platform in 2004.

In fact, the real danger to Mr Bush comes not from the militant left but from his own party, nervous at the prospect of another electoral rout in 2008 if the war is not quickly ended. At least six of the 49 Republican Senators have publicly opposed the plan, forcing Mr Bush to attend a meeting of party lawmakers on Friday, in a bid to rally his followers.

"I'm the decision-maker," he said, challenging opponents to come up with an alternative to the troop increase that would still allow the US to prevail in Iraq.

In a radio address yesterday, Mr Bush accused some Democrats of being "reflexively partisan" in rejecting out of hand the troop "surge" and domestic initiatives set out in the State of the Union address. But the trial of strength will come in the Senate this week, as lawmakers vote on resolutions on the war. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted 12 to 9 in favour of a text saying the troop increase was "not in the US national interest", and Senator Edward Kennedy is demanding Congress cut off funding for extra troops.

But the greatest danger is a deeply critical resolution sponsored by influential Republican Senator John Warner. With Mr Warner's name as cover, the White House fears more Republicans will join Democrats in support. It is non-binding, but passage of the resolution would be a slap in the face for the embattled administration.

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