Republican opposition to 'surge' grows

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The Independent US

Ignoring President George Bush's State of the Union plea to give his new Iraq policy time to work, senior Democratic and Republican senators pressed ahead with a resolution flatly opposing his plan to send more than 20,000 extra troops to Baghdad, and setting up a clash between Congress and the executive branch.

The resolution ­ non-binding but of great symbolic importance ­ was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday by 12 votes to nine, before going to the full Senate next week. Senator Chuck Hagel, the sole Republican to join 11 Democrats in support of the measure, said: "We better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder."

The panel's chairman, Senator Joseph Biden, said the legislation was " not an attempt to embarrass the President" but an attempt to save him from making a "significant mistake".

Near-unanimous Democratic rejection of the troop "surge" is taken for granted at the White House. Everything now hinges on whether the resolution will attract substantial Republican support as well ­ thus making it impossible for Bush aides to accuse their opponents of playing partisan politics. It already has the sponsorship of two Republican senators, while at least six others have come out in public opposition to Mr Bush.

In the most impassioned part of an otherwise low-key address on Tuesday, Mr Bush painted an apocalyptic picture of what might happen if US troops pulled out.

Whatever individual senators and representatives had voted in the crucial 2002 vote authorising the war, the President told his largely sceptical audience: "You did not vote for failure." If US support were removed, the Baghdad government "would be overrun by extremists on all sides".

Polls immediately afterwards suggested that more than three-quarters of listeners liked what they heard ­ a contrast with Mr Bush's abysmal approval ratings of 30 per cent or less.

* John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, said he would not join his party's crowded field for 2008.

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