Bush vows to send additional 20,000 troops

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WASHINGTON – President Bush is telling lawmakers he will send thousands more U.S. troops to Iraq’s two most troubled regions, in a plan that Democrats are resisting as a major escalation of a 31/2-year-old war.

On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he expects Bush to announce that up to 20,000 additional troops will be sent to Iraq, but will not say how long the extra forces will be there.

Levin, who spoke to reporters a day after meeting with White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley, said he thinks Bush will signal that the overall U.S. commitment in Iraq is not open-ended.

Levin said he will not back the president’s plan if Bush says only that the Iraqis must take on more responsibility, rather than setting conditions for U.S. help.

“If they don’t? Then what?” Levin asked. “That’s the part that’s been missing.”

Also Tuesday, a spokesman for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she will travel to the Middle East on Friday, following a day of testimony on Iraq before congressional committees under new Democratic control.

The extra forces would be sent to Baghdad, which has been consumed by sectarian violence, and the western Anbar Province, a base of the mostly Sunni insurgency and foreign al-Qaida fighters, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and others said following the session with Bush.

A day before Bush’s nationally televised speech describing his proposal, Sen. Edward Kennedy, a longtime critic of Bush and the war, will propose legislation denying him the billions needed to send more troops to war unless Congress agrees first. Though it was unclear whether the bill would ever reach the full Senate, it could at least serve as a rallying point for the most insistent foes of the Iraq conflict.

Democrats seem divided on whether to block funds for troop increases, but many were not ruling it out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats would “look at everything” in their power to curb the war, short of cutting money for troops already in the field.

He said he would only consider an increase in U.S. forces in Iraq if Bush agreed to start withdrawing troops within six months.

“We’ve got to focus the attention of the Iraqis on their responsibility for their own country,” Levin told the Detroit Free Press. “The only way to tell them is that we’re going to redeploy our forces in 4 to 6 months.”

The bill by Kennedy, D-Mass., is guaranteed to fuel the debate among lawmakers on how far they should go to try to force the president’s hand on the unpopular war.

Under the Constitution, the president has broad war-making powers, while Congress controls spending. Democratic leaders have swiftly rejected any suggestion of withholding money from troops already in combat zones.

“The Congress has the power of the purse and what we are saying is before the president sends additional American troops into the civil war, the president has to come back to the Congress and get the authority for that deployment,” Kennedy said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show.