Washington Democratic critics of the Iraq war seized the offensive at both ends of the Capitol on Tuesday, disclosing plans for a symbolic rejection by the House of President Bush's decision to deploy additional troops and filing legislation in the Senate to require withdrawal of U.S. military personnel.
"We're going to stand by our soldiers, but we're not going to stand by a failed policy that exposes more of our soldiers to death and suffering," said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, rebutting charges that the war's critics may be undermining the morale or even the safety of U.S. forces.
Democrats pressured Bush to change course as Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers that U.S. forces might be able to start leaving Iraq before the end of the year - if daunting conditions including subdued violence and political reconciliation are met.
He also said that the buildup in troops is "not the last chance" to succeed in Iraq and added, "I would be irresponsible if I weren't thinking about what the alternatives might be."
The Pentagon is in the midst of implementing Bush's order to raise troop levels by 21,500, part of a plan to help quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.
New checkpoints were in evidence in Iraq's capital city, and there were reports of inspections of increased numbers of vehicles. At the same time, more than 50 people were killed or found dead during the day, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said insurgents were responding to the new security measures by killing as many people as possible.
Bush's decision to dispatch additional troops has become a flashpoint for critics of his Iraq policy in the new, Democratic-controlled Congress, whose lawmakers were elected last fall by a war-weary electorate.
Officials said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland had both pledged to the Democratic rank and file that the House would vote next week on a nonbinding measure critical of Bush's plan to add 21,500 additional forces. They also reassured lawmakers clamoring for more robust action that the vote would merely be the first attempt to pressure the president to shift course and that future legislation will be binding.
Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said the measure brought to the floor next week would focus on "our opposition to the surge in troops" but has not yet been drafted.
Pelosi said last month the measure would declare that the troop increase was "not in the national interest," language once included in a Senate measure, but now abandoned.
Democrats intend to allow all lawmakers time to speak on the issue across three days of debate beginning next Tuesday.
Under House rules, Democratic leaders have the authority to advance legislation to the floor for three days of debate, and there is little doubt they will have the votes to prevail.
That stands in contrast to the Senate, where Republicans have so far blocked an attempt by Democrats to hold a full-fledged debate on the war.
Apart from legislation, Democrats have embarked on an effort to undermine public support for the war by holding numerous hearings.
At a daylong session, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., accused the former U.S. occupation chief in Iraq of haphazardly doling out billions of dollars after the U.S.-led invasion.
Waxman said 363 tons of cash was loaded onto airplanes and sent into the war zone in 2003, adding that U.S. officials had "no way of knowing whether the cash would wind up in enemy hands."
L. Paul Bremer III, who was head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said he had done the best he could to kickstart the Iraqi economy, which he said was "flat on its back" after years of rule by Saddam Hussein followed by the U.S.-led invasion. He said the money belonged to Iraqis and had come from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program and from seized Iraqi assets.