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Defense Secretary Gates says it's not clear how long Iraq buildup will last

WASHINGTON - Democrats who control Congress pounced Thursday on President Bush's plan to increase troops in Iraq as a bad mistake that ignores public sentiment and the advice of top generals. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he could not say how long the buildup would last. &#8220In choosing to escalate the war, the president virtually stands alone,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a Senate speech. However, he promised to give the plan careful consideration. Ahead of testimony on Capitol Hill, Gates told a White House briefing it remains unclear how long the &#8220temporary” military buildup ordered by Bush will last. But he said that the United States should know pretty soon whether Iraqis were living up to their part of the deal and increasing their own forces. In appearances on Capitol Hill, at news briefings and on morning television programs, administration officials worked to persuade a skeptical Democratic-led Congress to accept Bush's troop buildup as the last best chance for reversing Iraq's slide. &#8220All Americans know that the stakes in Iraq are enormous, and we all share the belief that the situation is currently unacceptable. On this we are united,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters. Bush's new strategy, announced Wednesday in a prime-time address to the nation, increases U.S. forces in Iraq by 21,500 and demands greater cooperation from the Iraqi government. Asked how long that buildup might last, Gates told the briefing, &#8220It's viewed as a temporary surge, but I think no one has a really clear idea of how long that might be.” Democrats voiced deep skepticism over the buildup. Reid said that Bush ignored the results of November's midterm elections that ended 12 years of GOP control of Congress, ignored the advice of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and &#8220a significant number of top generals.” &#8220Putting more U.S. combat forces in the middle of a civil war is a mistake,” Reid said. &#8220We're not going to baby sit a civil war,” Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told NBC's &#8220Today” Show. He said the Democratic-controlled Congress would not undercut troops already in Iraq but would explore ways to restrict the president from expanding the mission. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told CBS' &#8220The Early Show” that since the new Democratic-led Congress convened last week, &#8220questions are now being asked of this administration that haven't been asked for almost four years.” Democratic options were limited, however. Party leaders have mulled a resolution of disapproval, but that would be nonbinding, and there also has been talk of attaching a host of conditions to approval of a spending bill to cover the costs of the buildup. Gates told reporters that he is recommending an overall increase in the military of 92,000 soldiers and Marines over the next five years, bringing the overall total to 202,000 in Marines and 547,000 in the Army worldwide. Bush said last month that he would propose extra troops for the armed forces, which have been strained by the protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gates also said that to ease the strain on U.S. forces in Iraq, he would have to cycle some reserve units back to the war zone faster than current Pentagon policy, which is to mobilize those units for a year after at least five years of being inactive. Gates said today's &#8220global demands” made that change necessary, but said it would &#8220allow us to move closer to removing the stress on the total force.” Asked if the new U.S. and Iraqi offensive would go after Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-U.S. radical Shiite cleric, Gates said, &#8220All lawbreakers are susceptible to being detained or taken care of in this campaign.” Sadr is a key ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In remarks prepared for delivery to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice stressed that Iraqi obligations for troops, money and the political will to allow the Bush plan to succeed. She promised oversight, without giving specifics. &#8220Iraqis are in the lead; we are supporting them,” Rice said. &#8220Improvement in the security situation, especially in Baghdad, will open a window of opportunity for the Iraqi government to accelerate the process of national reconciliation. We can and will measure whether this work is being done.” On Iran, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, told reporters the kind of missions that Bush described Wednesday as efforts to &#8220seek out and destroy” networks providing weapons to anti-American forces would take place only inside Iraq. Those missions would not extend, for instance, into Iran, he said. &#8220We can take care of the security for our troops by doing the business we need to do inside of Iraq,” Pace said. On another issue, Rice called the chaotic, controversial circumstances surrounding the hanging of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein &#8220extremely unfortunate” - some of the strongest criticism from the administration to date. When Bush was asked his reaction last week, he said only that he wished &#8220the proceedings had gone on in a more dignified way.” Meanwhile, a coalition of labor, anti-war groups and liberal organizations was announcing a multimillion-dollar advertising and grass-roots campaign against the commitment of extra troops. A new AP-Ipsos poll found approval for Bush's handling of Iraq hovering near a record low - 29 percent of Americans approve and 68 percent disapprove. In his 20-minute speech, Bush took responsibility for mistakes in Iraq and outlined a strategy he said would pull it out of its spiral of violence. The plan would increase the U.S. troop presence from the current 132,000 to 153,500 at a cost of $5.6 billion. &#8220If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home,” Bush said.

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