Iraq Strategy in the Hot Seat

The renewed Senate debate on the war in Iraq comes at an inopportune time for President Bush: an administration report is due to Congress Sunday that will likely show how little progress the Iraqi government has made; a number of influential Republicans have just called for a new course in Iraq; and members of Congress are returning to Washington having spent the previous week in their home districts confronted daily by the impact of the war.

The war has taken a toll, both emotional and political, on the American people.

When Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., called for a new course in Iraq last Thursday, he cited conversations with family members of troops killed in Iraq as having influenced his decision.

"We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress," he said. "I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."

Today in New Mexico, a funeral was held in Santa Fe for 21-year-old Army Cpl. Joel Dahl. Killed in a firefight in South Baghdad at the end of June, Dahl will never meet his 11-day-old son, Kaiden.

Last week in Lee, Maine, GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe attended the funeral of Sgt. Joel House, who had been killed by an IED.

"It's something you live with every day," said Snowe. "You listen to the stories that their families tell of the heroism of their young men and women who have put themselves on the front line, dedicated to their duty, and that was certainly true last week."

"I'm finding that my constituents' patience is pretty much exhausted," said Collins. "They're very disturbed by the high casualty rates."

Today, Collins said she has lost confidence in the president's leadership. "If the president isn't willing to adopt a new strategy, then perhaps we, in Congress, have to impose it on him," she said.

Those comments join a growing Republican chorus.

"Americans and most senators want a new strategy, a different strategy," said Tennessee's Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Democrats Push Amendments for Change

Democrats, too, are under pressure from their constituents who are disappointed that they haven't brought U.S. troops home.

"I understand the feeling of the American people that we haven't done enough because we haven't done enough," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

This week, Democrats will push several amendments to a Pentagon spending bill:

-- one offered by Reid and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., would cut off funding for U.S. combat troops after April 2008.

-- Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., will offer one that would narrow the U.S. mission and begin the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops within four months.

-- Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., are working on one to rescind the 2002 war authorization, and

-- Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., would require that U.S. troops get more time at home between deployments — which would complicate matters for the Pentagon.

For now, most Republicans, including John Kyl of Arizona, seem opposed to these efforts to pull back on the presence in Iraq. "Certainly, it's my goal to prevent an undercutting of this effort. When you're sending troops there to do their mission, they're in harm's way," Kyl said.

But that sentiment seems to be changing, and time is not on the president's side.

While Snowe was considering today how far she's willing to go in these efforts to withdraw U.S. troops, she was notified of another soldier from her home state killed in Iraq, U.S. Army Pfc. Jason Dore.

"Why should our men and women be dying on the ground each and every day at a time when the Iraqi government has not demonstrated a capability or a willingness to implement its goals?" Snowe asked.

She said the "tide has turned. And the president needs to understand that, because events are not improving."

Matt Jaffee, Lisa Chinn, Audrey Taylor and Amy Thomas contributed to this report.

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