Dems plan hearings on Iraq

Influential Democratic Senator Carl Levin opposed a “surge” of US forces in Iraq if it is not linked to a troop reduction program, and said his committee would meet in January to study all options in Iraq.

“The bottom line is, the main direction has got to be troop reduction. And, as far as I’m concerned, a surge which is not part of a program of reduction is not worth considering,” the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told CNN television.

Levin’s comments came as US President George W. Bush huddled with top advisers at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, seeking a new course of action in Iraq, amid reports he favors a “surge” of troops to quell violence in Baghdad.

Under pressure from the Democrats’ election victory in November, which ended the Republicans’ control of Congress, Bush is expected to announce a new strategy for Iraq in the “first part of January,” a senior aide said.

Levin told CNN he plans to hold hearings on what options are available in Iraq after Bush announces his new plan.

“The first hearing will be on January 11. There will be two additional hearings on the two Thursdays after that,” he told the cable news channel, adding that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, would be called on to present the administration’s position.

However, Levin said if Bush did not have a new Iraq strategy by January 11, “we would have them in front of us on a subsequent Thursday.

“But we have to examine whatever the president … is going to propose.”

Levin, 72, said “the problem with the president is his logic,” referring to Bush’s unwavering insistence that his Iraq strategy is ultimately headed for success.

“We are not on the road to success in Iraq, … and I think surging troops and adding troops just gets us in deeper and keeps us on the same course.”

Levin said increasing troop levels “sends exactly the wrong message to the Iraqis, that, somehow or other, their fate is in our hands, instead of their hands.

“It seems to me that, even if the president is going to propose to add troops, he’s got to make that conditional upon the Iraqis doing something,” Levin added.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse