The US House of Representatives on Friday issued a rebuke to George W. Bush’s Iraq strategy in the first concrete demonstration of opposition to the war by Capitol Hill since the US-led invasion almost four years ago.
The 246-182 vote was non-binding and will have no impact on Mr Bush’s plan to deploy 21,500 extra troops in addition to the 131,000 already there as part of his “new way forward in Iraq” unveiled last month.
But leaders of the Democratic party, which won midterm congressional elections in November largely on the back ofdisaffection over Iraq, said yesterday’s symbolic step would be followed by measures to limit Mr Bush’s ability to “escalate” the war.
The vote, to be followed by a similar one in the Senate on Saturday, marked the most significant questioning of a US president’s wartime authority since the 1970 vote to rescind the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which led to war in Vietnam.
Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House, said: “The stakes in Iraq are too high to recycle proposals that have little prospect for success. The passage of this legislation will signal a change in direction in Iraq that will end the fighting and bring our troops home.”
The White House said Friday’s resolution went against the wishes of the Iraqi government and the US military in Iraq.
Republican leaders said the Democratic party was attempting a “slow bleed” of operations in Iraq that would culminate in a move to cut off congressional funding for US troops there. Seventeen of the 201-strong Republican caucus voted with Friday’s resolution, fewer than party leaders had feared.
“They [supporters of the resolution] are gambling on failure,” said Tony Snow, White House spokesman. “The president has a plan for success…What we’re afraid of is that this is, in fact, going to serve as a precursor for cutting off our troops.”
Democratic leaders plan to tread a fine line in the next few weeks that will involve taking further steps to oppose Mr Bush’s prosecution of the war - such as attaching conditions to future congressional funding of military operations - while also making it clear they will continue to support American troops in the field.
“The Democratic party is highly conscious of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the American public opposed the Vietnam war and yet it was the Democrats who emerged as the losers politically,” said Mark Schmitt at the New America Foundation, a centrist think-tank in Washington.
Among Democratic plans being floated are measures that would require the Iraqi government to meet certain benchmarks before new funds were authorised and conditions on the US administration’s ability to redeploy military units to the battlefield. The US army has complained that it is severely under-equipped and overstretched.
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