Iraq report leaves Dems scrambling

Democrats on Wednesday battled to scotch the notion that General David Petraeus’s upbeat report on his troop surge strategy had punctured their drive to bring US troops home from Iraq.

Party leaders said they would launch a new attempt in the Senate next week to change the mission of the war, though Petraeus’s marathon testimony in Congress appeared to have bought more time for President George W. Bush.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Bush’s expected announcement in a televised address Thursday that he would reduce US troop levels by 30,000 to pre-surge levels by mid-2008 did not go far enough.

“This is unacceptable to me, this is unacceptable to the American people,” Reid said.

“His plan is simply more of the same: to keep at least 130,000 troops, American troops in midst of a intractable civil war.”

Reid said Democrats would introduce a number of new amendments aimed at changing the US posture in Iraq next week, during a debate over a defense spending bill, but would not give further details.

Some Democrats have previously said they may consider dropping their insistence for a mandatory target date for troop withdrawals — hoping to pick up the votes of Republicans who are wavering on the war.

Leading Republicans, on the defensive all year over Iraq, welcomed the political respite which Petraeus’s testimony Monday and Tuesday appeared to have provided.

“I think that Democratic colleagues invested their political capital all year in failure in Iraq,” said House Republican minority leader John Boehner in a conference call with reporters just after arriving in Iraq.

“Now we are having success in Iraq, and hopefully continue to have success in Iraq, I don’t think they have any place to go.”

Boehner was referring to the breadth of the Democratic support base, which contains members in conservative districts more likely to side with Bush on the war and what he called the “anti-war left” which is demanding an immediate and total troop withdrawal.

Despite seizing control of Congress last November, Democrats have repeatedly tried and failed to woo enough Republicans to surpass the 60-vote supermajority needed to pass major legislation in the 100-member Senate.

They are also well short of the two-thirds House of Representatives majority needed to override any presidential vetoes.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama meanwhile mounted his own bid to reclaim the initiative over Iraq, announcing a four-part plan to get US troops out of Iraq.

He said withdrawals should start immediately at the rate of two combat brigades — about 8,000 troops — every month, to be completed by the end of next year.

“The American people have had enough of the shifting spin. We’ve had enough of extended deadlines for benchmarks that go unmet,” Obama said in a speech in Clinton, Iowa.

“We’ve had enough of mounting costs in Iraq and missed opportunities around the world. Weve had enough of a war that should never have been authorized and should never have been waged.”

On Tuesday, Democratic House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Petraeus’s latest Iraq strategy as a blueprint for 10 more years of war.

“General Petraeus’ testimony to Congress drew a bright line: redeployment is not an option; endless war in Iraq is the administration’s only option,” she said in a statement after meeting Bush.

Petraeus testified during hearings also featuring by US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker that the operation to surge an extra 28,500 troops into Iraq was working and had cut sectarian violence.

But Democrats bluntly told him that the surge had failed as there was no sign that it had succeeded in its prime aim — of forging political reconciliation between Iraq’s warring factions.