Days before his annual State of the Union address, US President George W. Bush faced sharp criticism of his new Iraq strategy from increasingly vocal Republican allies-turned-critics in the US Congress.

His party’s leadership in the US Senate and House of Representatives has held fast behind his plan, but some rank-and-file Republicans in both chambers have broken and are publicly assailing it.

“At this late stage, interjecting more young American troops into the cross fire of an Iraqi civil war is simply not the right approach,” Republican Representative Ric Keller said on the House floor last week.

“We’re not going to solve an Iraqi political problem with an American military solution,” said Keller. “The solution is not to lose even more lives and to spend even more money.”

Bush will get a high-profile shot in his State of the Union address on Tuesday at reversing the steep slide in US public support for his handling of the nearly four-year-old war.

And the White House has invited lawmakers from Bush’s party who are “at least skeptical” of his decision to send 21,500 more US soldiers to quell raging sectarian violence, according to spokesman Tony Snow.

In a sign of the political climate, Snow refused to say who took part from either side, how many took part, how long such meetings ran, or to describe what was said, and jokingly boasted: “I won’t even tell you if the coffee was hot.”

Snow has also implied that any vote on the Iraq war strategy would signal division and weakness, emboldening US enemies, disheartening US allies and crippling Iraqi confidence in their fledgling government at a crucial time.

Some of the toughest attacks on Bush’s push to escalate US troop levels have come from the Senate, where two Republicans have lined up behind a symbolic but tough-worded resolution principally backed by opposition Democrats.

“To put more American troops in the middle of a clearly defined sectarian civil war I don’t think is wise, I don’t think is responsible. That is not going to fix the problem,” Republican Chuck Hagel told Fox television Thursday.

The non-binding resolution declares Bush’s plan “not in the national interest” and calls for “an appropriately expedited timeline” for transferring responsibility for Iraq’s security to the country’s government.

It also seeks an internationally sponsored peace and reconciliation process in Iraq.

Asked about the measure, Snow fired back “we disagree. We think it’s absolutely a matter of national interest” and demanded that the president’s critics produce “serious proposals” for winning in Iraq.

Asked whether any measures under consideration in the US Congress would lead Bush to change his mind about the new Iraq strategy, Snow replied: “Not at this juncture, no.”

Hagel and Republican Senator Olympia Snowe have backed the resolution. At least five other Republican senators have publicly expressed deep reservations about Bush’s escalation of the war but stopped short of backing the measure.

Legislators on Wednesday also presented a bill requiring Congress to approve funding for any additional troops, and another calling for a full US withdrawal from Iraq.

Democrats took control of Congress on January 4 for the first time in a dozen years after a sweeping victory in November elections heavily shaped by voter anger at the war.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse

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