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Archive for January 22nd, 2007

Republican opposition to Iraq plan grows

WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans pushed back Monday against President Bush’s decision to increase troop strength in Iraq, some voicing opposition while others urged holding the administration and Iraqi government more accountable for the war effort.

“We’ve had four other surges since we first went into Iraq,” said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), referring to the administration’s plan for an additional 21,500 troops. “None of them produced a long-lasting change in the situation on the ground.

“So I am very skeptical that this surge would produce the desired outcome,” said the Maine Republican.

In the Senate, Collins joined two Republicans and one Democrat to unveil nonbinding legislation expressing disagreement with Bush’s plan. The president should consider “all options and alternatives” involving a smaller force, the measure said.

In the House, members of the leadership drafted a series of what they called “strategic benchmarks,” and said the White House should submit monthly reports to Congress measuring progress.

The developments occurred on the eve of Bush’s State of the Union address, and as Democrats pointed toward votes in the House and Senate on bills declaring that the troop increase is “not in the national interest of the United States.”

Republicans have struggled to respond in the two weeks since Bush outlined his new strategy. Though aware that the war played a role in the GOP defeat in last fall’s elections, most have been unwilling to abandon a president of their own party.

Both the Senate legislation and the action taken by the House Republican leaders are softer than the legislation that majority Democrats intend to place for a vote. But they also represent a more forceful response to the long and deadly war than the GOP offered while it held the majority in Congress.

More than 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed in the war, including 27 over the weekend and one more on Monday.

Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record) of Virginia, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Collins and Norm Coleman (news, bio, voting record) of Minnesota in producing the legislation expressing disagreement with Bush’s plan. Sen. Ben Nelson (news, bio, voting record), D-Neb., joined them.

“I personally, speaking for myself, have great concern about the American G.I. being thrust into that situation, the origins of which sometimes go back over a thousand years,” Warner said.

Collins said some Republican senators did not feel comfortable with the Democratic-backed measure, but wanted to register their concern with Bush’s approach.

Unlike the measure backed by Democrats, Warner’s proposal would leave open the possibility of Bush sending a small number of additional troops to a specific region, such as Anbar province in the western part of Iraq.

Even so, the action taken by Collins, Coleman and him raised the number of Senate Republicans publicly opposed to the president’s plan to five. Sens. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe (news, bio, voting record) of Maine have said they back the Democrats’ resolution.

In the House, Rep. John Boehner (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio, the party’s leader, said he supports Bush’s plan and that his backing is not conditional on the president agreeing to meet the standards that lawmakers laid out.

He said he had told the president “that the support is still strong among Republicans but there are a lot of our members who are skeptical that the plan will work” because of doubts that the Iraqi government will follow through on its commitments.

Boehner also released a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., urging her to appoint a special committee of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats to oversee the “implementation and progress of the president’s new strategy for success in Iraq.”

As the majority party, Democrats generally are entitled to more seats on House committees than Republicans, and it is unlikely Pelosi would agree to a different arrangement to monitor the war.

The House Republicans’ suggested “strategic benchmarks” apply largely to the Iraqi government, which has pledged additional troops to quell sectarian fighting and to restrain Shiite militia.

Republicans want the government to be measured on its cooperation with U.S. forces, its ability to purge its security forces of insurgents and their sympathizers and also on its ability to assure that Shiite, Sunni, Kurd and other groups are treated equally.

Democrats are expected to bring Iraq-related legislation to a vote in the days following Bush’s televised State of the Union address.

Warner said he would seek a vote on his alternative at the same time.

In the House, it was not clear whether Republicans intend to seek a vote on an alternative of their own, and if so, whether it would express support for Bush’s plan.

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State of the Union: Unhappy With Bush

Bush’s 33 Percent Approval Rating Lowest Since Nixon for President Entering State of the Union Speech

Jan. 22, 2007 — President Bush faces the nation this week more unpopular than any president on the eve of a State of the Union address since Richard Nixon in 1974.

Nixon was beleaguered by the Watergate scandal; for Bush, three decades later, it’s the war in Iraq. With his unpopular troop surge on the table, his job rating matches the worst of his presidency: Thirty-three percent of Americans approve of his work in office while 65 percent disapprove, 2-1 negative, matching his career low last May.

Only three postwar presidents have gone lower — Jimmy Carter, Nixon and Harry Truman. And only one has had a higher disapproval rating, Nixon.

For Bush, the bad news just starts there. Dismay over the unpopular war is dragging him down across the board, from his personal ratings to his position vis-à-vis the resurgent Democrats. It’s all a remarkable comedown for a president who, shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, saw his approval rating soar to the highest for any president in polls since 1938.

Today, by contrast, 71 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say the country is headed seriously off on the wrong track — the most since budget battles led to a highly unpopular government shutdown in early 1996. Bush’s war leadership clearly is the prime complaint: Sixty-four percent call the war a mistake, more than said so about Vietnam during that conflict.

The intensity of sentiment, moreover, has only grown: Fifty-one percent of Americans now “strongly” disapprove of Bush’s job performance overall, a majority for the first time. Just 17 percent strongly approve — a 3-1 negative ratio.

Through a partisan lens, three-quarters of Republicans continue to approve of Bush — but with much diminished vigor. There are only about half as many Republicans who “strongly” approve (42 percent) as there are Democrats who strongly disapprove (76 percent). And among two of his core support groups, conservatives and evangelical white Protestants, he’s at career lows in overall approval.

Attributes and Issues

On a personal level, majorities now say Bush is not a strong leader (once his claim to fame), 56 percent say he can’t be trusted in a crisis (another onetime mainstay), most don’t see him as honest, two-thirds don’t think he understands their problems and nearly as many don’t think he listens to others’ views. Fifty-five percent say he has not made the country more secure, his focus since 9/11.

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Bus bomb kills seven

BAGHDAD – Unrest and violence raged on in Iraq Sunday as an additional 3,200 US soldiers arrived in Baghdad under a Washington-backed extended security plan.

The forces would begin operations on Feb. 1, spokesman General Ray Odierno said. Forces are to be beefed up around Baghdad and joint US-Iraqi forces are expected to crack down on militants in extensive neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood raids.

The death toll of US soldiers killed over the previous 24 hours rose Sunday to 25 – including 12 in a helicopter crash – as five soldiers died in a militia attack on a security centre in Karbala and eight soldiers elsewhere, the US military said.

It revised downwards from 13 to 12 the number killed when the helicopter crashed in a region north-east of Baghdad inhabited by Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

US soldiers had been able to secure the crash site and seal it off. The circumstances of the crash were as yet unknown and an investigation was underway, a spokesman said.

A bomb left in a bag also struck a small bus carrying people to work in Baghdad, killing seven passengers and wounding at least 15. A second bomb hit central Baghdad.

In Karbala, an “illegally armed militia group” attacked the Provincial Joint Coordination Centre where US and Iraqi forces hold security meetings, killing five US soldiers.

At the time of the attack, US and Iraqi soldiers had been meeting to develop a security plan for Shiites attending Ashura commemorations, said Brigadier General Vincent K Brooks, Deputy Commander of coalition forces in Baghdad.
“The attack … was aimed at coalition and Iraqi security forces working together toward a better future for the citizens of Karbala,” said coalition spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Scott R Bleichwehl.

Police said three kidnapped US soldiers were killed in Mahaweel, near Karbala, around 80 kilometres south of Baghdad as US and Iraqi troops tailed vehicles believed carrying militants from Karbala.

One soldier was reported wounded in the operation during which the forces, according to police, managed to catch up with the vehicles containing the three soldiers’ bodies. The militants fled.

Authorities believe the militants had kidnapped the three and killed them inside the vehicles when their escape from Karbala was interrupted.

One US soldier died Saturday of wounds sustained when a roadside improvised bomb detonated near his vehicle in northern Iraq, and another died in northern Baghdad. A British soldier was also killed while on patrol in Basra, the London defence ministry said.

Meanwhile, US-led coalition forces said they killed one militant and detained 18 suspects early Sunday in raids triggered by recent intelligence reports, and targeting al-Qaeda supporters.

In al-Anbar province, six Iraqis, believed to have ties to “a weapons and bomb facilitator” were detained. In Mosul, one militant was shot down after a brief exchange of fire with the US forces.

In and around Fallujah, Tikrit, Karmah and Balad, 12 more suspects were rounded up. Weapons caches were also seized, the US military said, while documents were found concerning “a coalition forces member stationed at a nearby US military installation.”

In response to the continuing violence, Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki addressed the nation Sunday, again warning of the implications of “spilling innocent Iraqi blood” had on Iraq’s security and future.

“The recent operations that targeted students, labourers and children have confirmed to everyone that these people do not target a certain sectarian or national fragment (of society). They target the Iraqi man and the Iraqi way,” said al-Maliki.

Despite of angry reactions, al-Maliki did not comment on the controversial arrest of a prominent follower of the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr and the group’s spokesman, detained Friday in a joint operation between the US-led collation forces and the Iraqi Army.

The arrest of Sheikh Abdel-hadi al-Deraji had triggered anger among al-Sadr supporters, who described the arrest as “malicious”, and this spread Sunday even to MPs not affiliated with al-Sadr.

Abdel-Karim al-Anzy, member of the United Iraqi Alliance which has 128 seats in parliament, said the government should have been pre- informed of the arrest, which had been “a political decision,” and warned such high-profile arrests could threaten the country’s already wavering stability.

An al-Sadr-affiliated MP was more outspoken, telling the press that the arrest of al-Deraji was “inhuman, against human rights” and noted that one of al-Deraji’s guards was killed during the arrest.

“Al-Deraji’s arrest is not right, and we hope that the government would take serious and real steps in order to release him,” said Falah Hassan Shanshal, who added that the Sadrists would work to put an end to unwarranted “random detentions.”

Although the government was partly blamed for not pushing for the release, a government spokesman quoted by pan-Arab Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper said al-Maliki was unaware of the arrest.

Ali al-Dabagh said al-Maliki “was not aware of the arrest of al- Deraji” and that “he will be released.” Al-Dabagh insisted however that “doubts” still surround al-Deraji and that he will be “questioned and interrogated” in regards to these suspicions.

An unnamed source from the Sadr faction told the newspaper that raids against his group have continued over the past two days.

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