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Republicans' division over Iraq grows
Financial Times
By Guy Dinmore in Washington
January 7, 2007

Leading Republicans on Sunday showed further signs of dissent over President George W.Bush's reported plans to send more troops to Iraq, while the Democrats, now in control of Congress, said they would not give the president a "blank cheque' for reinforcements.

"If the president recommends what we seem to believe he's going to recommend, I intend to support him," declared Mitch McConnell, the Republican's new minority leader in the Senate, before conceding on Fox News Sunday that other Republicans would not endorse the plan.

Republicans are divided over the expectation that Mr Bush intends to announce a big troop increase on Wednesday as part of the strategy and personnel overhaul the White House is calling a "new way forward".

Senator Chuck Hagel last week called the idea "Alice in Wonderland", while, on his return from Iraq last month, Senator Norm Coleman said he would "stand against" any such plan.

However, Senator John McCain, the leading Republican presidential hopeful, has come out strongly in favour of a "surge", and Senator Jon Kyl has called on both parties to work together in giving the president's plans "an opportunity to work".

While the Democrats have no agreement on what action is needed in Iraq, very few have publicly backed sending more troops to add to the 132,000 in Iraq.

Nancy Pelosi, the new House speaker, and other Democrats stopped short of saying they would block funding but yesterday made clear that the administration would have to work hard in committee hearings to justify more spending.

"If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now," she told CBS. "If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it and this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank cheque with no oversight, no standards, no conditions."

Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat on the foreign relations committee, went further than Ms Pelosi, saying Congress should exercise its "power of the purse" by voting on "whether or not we should fund this escalation if, in fact, that's what the president does".

She also accused Mr Bush, in carrying out his military reshuffle last week, of "shopping for a general who agreed with him" to send more forces.

The discord among Republicans over Iraq will be significant in the battle over who will become the party's presidential candidate for 2008.

Among the Democrats, senatorial contenders for the party's nomination, including Barack Obama and Joseph Biden, have spoken out against a "surge", whereas Hillary Clinton has kept her powder dry.

Steny Hoyer, the Democrats' House majority leader, declined to comment on the possibility of the Democrats cutting off funding.

?Gordon Brown, who is expected to take over as prime minister from Tony Blair this year, said Sunday he expected the UK to push on with its plans for withdrawal from Iraq and focus more on training and completion of development projects.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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