Opposition mounts to raising US troop in Iraq

By Edward Luce in Washington

Financial Times

Published: January 2 2007


George W. Bush is facing mounting opposition to plans to reinforce America’s military presence in Iraq, as he prepares to unveil his administration’s new strategy for dealing with a conflict that has now claimed the lives of 3,000 US soldiers.

The US president is expected to announce a “new way forward in Iraq” sometime before his annual State of the Union address to Congress in late January.

According to a spate of leaks to the US media, Mr Bush is looking at a proposal to increase the number of US troops by between 20,000 and 30,000 as a short-term boost to the existing 140,000 level, with the aim of stabilising the violence in Baghdad and surrounding provinces.

But criticism of the planned “surge” in US forces is growing from within his own party as the death toll of US troops in Iraq rises. The figure last month passed the toll from the September 11 attacks and at the weekend independent groups confirmed the death of the 3,000th US soldier in the country.

In the past two days, a number of prominent Republican senators, including Arlen Specter and Richard Lugar, the outgoing chairmen of the Senate judiciary and foreign relations committees, have voiced strong scepticism about an increase in troops.

Although Mr Bush could expect the support of John McCain, the 2008 presidential hopeful, and Lindsey Graham, another Republican senator, the Republican tide appears to be moving against boosting troop levels. A number of Republicans have pointed out that Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, is also opposed to a beefed-up US military presence.

Mr Bush is also likely to face implacable opposition to any increase in US troop levels from the Democratic party, which controls both houses of the new US Congress that commences on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration faces the likelihood of tough senate hearings throughout January that Joseph Biden, the new Democratic chairman of the foreign relations committee, plans to hold from next week.

Democratic leaders have also hinted that they could use their control over the budget process to make life difficult for the Bush administration if it chooses to step up the US military presence in Iraq. This would require higher funding than the estimated $110bn (€83bn, £56bn) the war will have cost in the fiscal year ending in April.

Mr Bush is also expected to push for more funding to expand the overstretched US army, which senior generals have warned is close to breaking point. However, any permanent increase in size would take years to come on stream.