Springfield Journal Register

January 6, 2006

Durbin, Obama against sending more American soldiers to Iraq


WASHINGTON - Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama came out strongly Friday against the option that President Bush is considering to increase U.S. troops in Iraq.

The two Illinois Democrats long have opposed the war. However, Durbin suggested Friday that the Democratic-controlled Congress is considering using its control over war funding to cap troop levels or restrict the administration's efforts in other ways.

Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said he "fully supports" a letter sent by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urging the president to begin pulling out troops in four to six months.

The proposed surge in troops "is a sad, ominous echo of something we've lived through in this country," said Durbin, recalling the Vietnam war. He spoke to reporters after a meeting of Senate Democrats on issues confronting the new Congress.

Durbin was reiterating concerns he expressed Thursday on the Senate floor, where he said, "I am afraid in many instances we are only sending targets and not troops."

Meanwhile, Obama, who's expected to announce soon whether he will be a candidate for the presidency in 2008, said he told Bush directly that an "escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake."

Obama was among more than a dozen senators of both parties who were invited to the White House to discuss the president's plans for Iraq. Bush will continue to meet with lawmakers and is expected to announce his new Iraq strategy next week in an address to the nation.

"It was an open-ended discussion," Obama told reporters after the meeting. "The president asked for our opinions. I think both Republican and Democratic senators expressed grave concern about the situation in Iraq.

"I personally indicated that an escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake and that we need a political accommodation, rather than a military approach, to the sectarian violence there."

Asked for the president's reaction, Obama said: "I think he is considering it very carefully. They've obviously run that possibility through the traps. He did not say definitively that that's the decision he had made."

No specific figure was mentioned for the proposed increase in troops during the meeting, Obama said.