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House to confront Bush next week, voting on measure opposing Iraq buildup

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WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House is planning to vote next week on opposing President Bush’s Iraq troop buildup in a wartime clash between Congress and commander in chief.
    The precise nature of the nonbinding measure remains to be determined, officials said Tuesday, although Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said it would focus on ‘‘our opposition to the surge’’ in troops.
    The Pentagon is in the midst of implementing Bush’s order to raise troop levels by 21,500, part of a plan to help quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.
    Across the Capitol on the Senate side, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that U.S. forces might be able to start leaving Iraq before the end of the year — if daunting conditions including subdued violence and political reconciliation are met.
    In Iraq, however, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the Baghdad security operation that the buildup was designed to help was starting slowly and insurgents were responding by killing as many people as possible.
    New checkpoints were up, and there were reports of increased vehicle inspections and foot patrols, but violence continued.
    The U.S. announced two American deaths — a soldier killed Tuesday at a security post southwest of Baghdad and a Marine who died Monday in Anbar province — and eight Iraqis were killed by car bombs in Baghdad. In all, more than 50 people were killed or found dead in Iraq.
    Bush’s revised strategy has sparked strong opposition among Democrats, and officials said that Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., had both pledged to their rank-and-file that next week’s vote would merely be the first attempt to pressure the president to shift course in the war. Other legislation will be binding, they said.
    Under House rules, Democratic leaders have the authority to advance a measure to the floor for three days of debate and a vote.
    That stands in contrast to the Senate, where Republicans have so far blocked an attempt by Democrats to hold a full-fledged debate on a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops.
    House Democratic leaders charted their course as Gates told lawmakers the buildup in troops is ‘‘not the last chance’’ to succeed in Iraq and ‘‘I would be irresponsible if I weren’t thinking about what the alternatives might be.’’
    Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said, ‘‘We at this point are planning for success.’’
    Gates and other administration officials have been sharply critical of efforts to pass legislation expressing disapproval of the increase in troops, even if the form is nonbinding.
    That has had no noticeable impact on Democratic critics of the war, though. Some of them argue that Bush’s policies have led to a situation in which U.S. troops are thrust into the middle of a civil war in Iraq.
    Even as the Democratic leaders mapped plans to take symbolic votes against Bush’s policy, two bills were unveiled during the day to force the president to move toward a troop withdrawal.
    ‘‘The only people who believe there is a workable military solution for the conflict in Iraq is the Bush administration,’’ said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in announcing legislation that would require Bush to ‘‘complete the redeployment’’ of American troops within a year.
    Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democratic presidential hopeful, joined two other lawmakers in proposing a measure to block Bush from implementing his planned troop increase, and to begin a withdrawal by May 1.
    Apart from legislation, Democrats have embarked on an effort to undermine public support for the war by holding numerous hearings.
    In one of them on Tuesday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., accused the former U.S. occupation chief in Iraq of haphazardly doling out billions of dollars after the invasion.
    Waxman said 363 tons of cash was loaded onto airplanes and sent into the war zone in 2003, adding that U.S. officials had ‘‘no way of knowing whether the cash would wind up in enemy hands.’’
    L. Paul Bremer III, who was head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said he had done the best he could to kickstart the Iraqi economy, which he said was ‘‘flat on its back’’ after years of rule by Saddam Hussein followed by the U.S.-led invasion. He said the money belonged to Iraqis and had come from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program and from seized Iraqi assets.
    One Republican accused Democrats of trying to embarrass the administration. ‘‘It’s old news,’’ said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.
    Hoyer told reporters at a news conference he hoped the measure in the House would attract Republican support.
    Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, his party’s leader, said in an interview he hoped the GOP would be permitted to seek a vote on an alternative. If so, he said it would call for a bipartisan committee to oversee the war effort, and lay out a series of benchmarks by which people could judge whether the Iraqi government was living up to its commitments to help quell the violence.
    ‘‘If you’re not for victory in Iraq, you’re for failure,’’ Boehner said. ‘‘The consequences of failure are immense. I think it destabilizes the entire Middle East, encourages Iran and on top of that it’s pretty clear that the terrorists will just follow us home.’’
    In Iraq, Prime Minister al-Maliki said of a possible security sweep in Baghdad: ‘‘The operations will unite us and we will take action soon, God willing, even though I believe we’ve been very late and this delay has started to give a negative message.’’
    ‘‘I hope that more efforts will be exerted and more speed exerted in carrying out and achieving all the preparations to start the operations,’’ he said.
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