As new bombings killed dozens in Kirkuk and Baghdad yesterday, senior Democrats in America crafted a bipartisan Senate resolution opposing President George Bush's latest troop "surge", and lambasted the administration for its failure to take in more Iraqi refugees - many of them in mortal danger from the sectarian violence.
Less than 24 hours after co-ordinated explosions at a university in Baghdad killed more than 60 people, 17 more died in a suicide bombing at a market in the Shia district of Sadr City in the capital yesterday. In the northern city of Kirkuk, 10 people died in a car bombing at a checkpoint outside a police station.
The latest bloodletting came as the US and Iraqi security forces prepared to begin an offensive to restore order, backed by the despatch of up to 21,500 US troops to Baghdad and the insurgent stronghold of Anbar province.
At the same time, the Shia-led government of Nouri al-Maliki claimed to have made progress on new laws sharing oil revenues and partially lifting a ban on former Baath party members steps Washington says are vital if Sunnis are to acquiesce in the government and all-out civil war is to be avoided.
Few, either in the region or in the US, were convinced. In Washington, Mr Bush delivered some of his bleakest remarks on the crisis, saying the Maliki government had "fumbled" the execution of Saddam Hussein on 30 December, and admitting that his previous policy had been a failure.
In the latest of several television interviews to rally support behind his policy, Mr Bush said that his previous approach amounted to "a slow failure", while withdrawal and "hope for the best" were no more than "expedited failure", the President told the PBS NewsHour programme.
But his plans drew forthright criticism yesterday from the New York Senator Hillary Clinton, just back from a fact-finding visit to Baghdad. The probable 2008 Democratic presidential candidate called for a cap on the American force in Iraq at the current 132,000 level, followed by a gradual drawdown.
The pressure on Mr Bush will grow further later this week when the Senate considers a non-binding but high-profile resolution expressing opposition to the troop build-up an idea backed by more than 60 per cent of the public, according to a new poll here.
The text has been worked out by Senators Joe Biden and Carl Levin, Democratic chairmen respectively of the Foreign Relations and the Armed Services committees, and the Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel a long-standing critic of the war and a possible contender for his party's 2008 presidential nomination.
The resolution, which declares that "it is not in the US national interest to deepen its involvement in Iraq", could come to a floor vote as Mr Bush delivers his State of the Union address next week. It will be backed by almost every Democrat as well as by up to a dozen Republicans testament to the rift on Iraq within Mr Bush's own party.
The wider the support, the more likely majority Democrats will be emboldened to press their ultimate constitutional weapon, a congressional measure cutting off funding for the extra troops that would make their deployment impossible to sustain.
The administration has also been criticised by Democrats for not taking in more Iraqi refugees, especially people who had risked their lives by working with the US or who were brave enough to denounce those responsible for the sectarian excesses.
The US has admitted 466 refugees since 2003.
* President Bush has decided not to renew a programme of domestic spying on terrorism suspects, Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney-General, said yesterday, ending a law-enforcement tactic criticised for infringing on civil liberties. Mr Bush has reauthorised the programme every 45 days, and the current authorisation is in mid-course. A recent, secret court approval allowed the government to act without the programme, Mr Gonzales said.Reuse content