Opposition grows to ‘troop surge’ plan

Opposition to a proposal to send additional American troops to Iraq grew stronger in the United States over the Christmas weekend as President George W. Bush pondered new ways to stabilize the country sinking deeper into sectarian strife.

Bush discussed his options with new Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior security officials at his Camp David retreat in Maryland on Saturday.

And although the White House declined to disclose specifics, top administration officials are reported to be increasingly focusing on a proposal to pour up to 30,000 new troops into Iraq to help the 140,000-strong US force already there quell sectarian violence.

But a troop "surge" of that magnitude, experts say, will have to be financed through new budget appropriations, which in effect will give the new Democrat-controlled Congress a say in the matter.

The president was expected to ask for these funds early next year as he announces his highly-anticipated new Iraq policy.

However, signals that emerged from Capitol Hill Sunday indicated the White House may face a very uphill battle, if, as expected, it embraces the proposal.

Democrat Christopher Dodd, a prominent member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who visited Iraq last week, said he did not see how the "surge" could help reduce violence in Iraq, which, in his view, has grown worse over the past months.

"The commanders that I talked to last week and soldiers on the ground felt that a surge in troops, some 15,000 to 30,000 additional troops, was not going to contribute to the political or diplomatic solution that Iraq cries out for," Dodd told ABC News. "And so I believe it will be a mistake for us at this juncture to be adding more troops."

Dodd, who is considering a 2008 presidential run, also authored an article Sunday in Iowa’s Des Moines Register newspaper, in which he argued that the United States should begin the process of getting troops out of Iraq — "within weeks, not months."

"If continuing this sacrifice held the promise of achieving American goals, I would support it," the senator wrote. "But our presence there has become a barrier to our goals."

Under the senator’s plan, US troops should be partly withdrawn and partly redeployed to the Syrian border, northern Iraq, Qatar and Afghanistan, where they would join the fight against the resurgent Taliban and expand the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Sunday for a deadline to be set for pulling US troops from Iraq rather than increasing their numbers.

"We sent 15,000 more troops to Baghdad last summer, and today the escalating civil war is even worse," he argued in an article in The Washington Post. "You could put 100,000 more troops in tomorrow and you’re only going to add to the number of casualties until Iraqis sit down together at a bargaining table and compromise."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who will control the Senate agenda beginning next month, made it clear last week he would be willing to support the "surge" only as a stop-gap measure tied to "a program to get us out" of Iraq.

However, during his press conference Wednesday, Bush insisted he was still determined to achieve "victory" in Iraq and wanted to keep the troops there until the job is done.

Meanwhile, the idea of having more American soldiers go to Iraq does not sit well with the public, either.

A CNN opinion poll conducted in mid-December showed only 11 percent of respondents supported the plan of boosting the US contingent in Iraq.

That was down from 17 percent, who supported the "surge" in a similar survey conducted jointly by ABC News and The Washington Post just two weeks earlier.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse