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Dodd Introduces Bill to Cap U.S. Troops in Iraq

"The president has laid down the gauntlet by saying he is going to go forward and I don't care what you say," said Dodd. He argued that the authorization Congress gave Bush in 2002 to send troops to Iraq, leading to the March 2003 invasion and occupation, did not cover a situation that has since degenerated into a civil war among rival religious, ethnic and political sects.

Dodd announced his proposed legislation on a day when Clinton, in a series of interviews on morning television, endorsed troop limits and a possible cutoff of funds to the Iraqi government if it fails to meet security benchmarks.

Clinton said she supports starting "a phased redeployment out of Baghdad and eventually out of Iraq completely." However, she would not specify whether she would vote to block funding for the additional U.S. troops Bush wants to send to Iraq.

In staking out their positions today, the two probable competitors are likely to intensify debate over how aggressively Congress should challenge Bush's war policy -- and particularly his intent to commit an additional 21,500 troops.

Bush meanwhile called Republican senators to the White House today in an effort to rally support for his plan and dissuade GOP lawmakers from backing any resolutions against the troop buildup. The White House declined to say who was invited but acknowledged that lawmakers are generally skeptical of Bush's plan.

On the House side, Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) came out in support of a bill introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) to prevent Congress from restricting funds to troops already in combat. Blunt said any such restrictions would be "a recipe for troop demoralization."

Congress cannot "dictate strategy to the commander-in-chief," and lawmakers' power of the purse "is not to be taken lightly," Blunt said. "I hope Republicans and Democrats can unite behind the message that we support our troops in the field, and we will not cut their funding while they carry out their mission far away from their families and loved ones."

Unveiled in a nationally televised address last week, Bush's plan would focus on quelling sectarian violence in Baghdad and bolster forces in the volatile Anbar province.

Although announced in tandem with increased Iraqi efforts to take charge of their own security, the initiative has drawn bipartisan criticism in Congress and has received little support in public opinion polls.

But, despite winning control of the House and Senate in November elections that turned in part on public dissatisfaction with the direction of the Iraq war, Democrats are split on whether to simply criticize the president, or try to change his policies by imposing spending limits or other measures to restrict U.S. troop involvement in the conflict.

The split came into sharper focus this afternoon when Biden, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Levin, who now chairs the senate Armed Services Committee, released their nonbinding resolution opposing the troop increase, with Hagel as a co-sponsor.

The resolution declared that "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating U.S. troop presence in Iraq."

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