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Iraq death toll, Democrat push add pressure to Bush

UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush is under the gun as he readies a defense of his war policy days after a spike in US deaths in Iraq and as Democrats in Congress move to condemn his strategy.

Democratic lawmakers vowed Sunday to fight Bush's plans to send more troops to Iraq, after another 25 US troops died in the country Saturday, one of the highest one-day tolls since the war began nearly four years ago.

With Bush expected to renew his defense of his unpopular new war strategy in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, Democrats said they planned to introduce a resolution in Congress condemning the plan and others to put a cap on US troop deployments in Iraq.

Leading Democratic senators said they hoped the first bill, while non-binding, would ratchet up pressure on Bush over his decision to send 21,500 additional troops.

"It will be a very powerful message if a bipartisan majority of the Congress say that they disagree with the increased military involvement in Iraq," Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told Fox News Sunday.

But behind the looming clash is the news that some 3,200 new troops already arrived in Iraq over the weekend, and the stunning news of Saturday's carnage. The sharp spike in deaths took the total US military toll to 3,050.

In his speech Tuesday, the first to a Congress controlled by the Democrats, Bush is expected to portray the US presence in Iraq as part of a broader global "war on terror" while warning of the risks of defeat.

But critics say his plan to increase troops in a last-ditch to put down sectarian violence has little chance of success.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Bush took the decision despite skepticism from top US military commanders and a proposal from Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, who called for pulling US troops out of Baghdad and letting the Iraqi government handle security in the capital, Maliki promoted the idea in a presentation to Bush in November in Jordan, but the US president eventually opted for a strategy to send five brigades to Baghdad, more than his own generals suggested, the Post said, citing unnamed US administration officials.

The bipartisan resolution in the Senate, which could be voted on one or two days after Bush's speech, says that it is not in the national interest to escalate the US military presence in Iraq and slams Bush's overall handling of the war.

"His policy has been a failure right from the beginning. It was poorly thought out. It was poorly implemented. And deepening military involvement now is not the answer," Levin said.

"Even the prime minister of Iraq has acknowledged that it is the failure of the political leaders in Iraq that are the cause of this violence, and without their coming together, there is no end to it," he said.

Meanwhile The political movement of Iraqi cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr said it would end a two-month boycott of parliament on Sunday, smoothing over a rift with its Shi'ite allies in the U.S.-backed government.

The political reconciliation with a group viewed with suspicion in Washington came after U.S. forces suffered their third deadliest day in Iraq since the start of war in 2003. Twenty-five U.S. soldiers were killed on Saturday in clashes with gunmen, a helicopter crash and other violence. "We are ending our boycott of the ministries and the parliament," Bahaa al-Araji, a senior member of the Sadrist group, told a news conference with the ruling Shi'ite Alliance.

Washington, Monday, Reuters, afp.

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