President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq was met by a degree of skepticism not seen from Congress in the past six years, with lawmakers...

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WASHINGTON — President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq was met by a degree of skepticism not seen from Congress in the past six years, with lawmakers from both parties expressing concern that Bush’s vow to take the fight to Syrians and Iranians could cause the war to spread, just as the Vietnam War spread into Cambodia.

Leading Democrats conceded Thursday they probably can’t block the 21,500-member troop increase in Iraq Bush outlined yesterday but said support is growing for using their power to control his future spending on the war.

In addition to saying he would increase troop strength and economic aid to Iraq, Bush also vowed to “interrupt the flow of support” from Iran and Syria to U.S. enemies in Iraq. He said the United States would take unspecified steps to “disrupt” attacks on U.S. troops by terrorists and insurgents who use Iranian and Syrian territory to move in and out of Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, testifying Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration had no plans to cross Iraq’s borders to attack supporters of the Iraqi insurgency and militias.

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But Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, called Bush’s speech “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder since Vietnam — and I intend to resist it.” Hagel compared the administration’s strategy to former President Nixon’s escalation of the Vietnam War to Cambodia.

“Some of us remember 1970 and Cambodia,” Hagel said. “And our government lied to us and said we didn’t cross the border. When you set in motion the kind of policy the president is talking about here, it is very, very dangerous.”

As lawmakers expressed concern about a possible expansion of the war to Iraq’s neighbors, U.S.-led forces in Iraq raided an Iranian consulate Thursday in the northern city of Irbil, detaining at least five Iranians and seizing property, according to Iraqi and Iranian officials.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe would not comment on Thursday’s raid. “But the president made it clear last night that we will not tolerate outside interference in Iraq. And that’s what the Iranians are up to,” Johndroe said.

Iran’s foreign-ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, told a state-sponsored radio station that U.S. forces targeted a “diplomatic mission” with legally credentialed staff. He accused the United States of trying to “create tension” between Iraq and its neighbors.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said no one in the military command had recommended attacks on Iran.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Rice that he doesn’t think the White House has the authority to push the war into Iran. “If the president concludes he needs to invade … I believe the present authorization does not cover that. He needs further congressional authority to do that,” Biden said.

Bush spurned the recommendation last month of the Iraq Study Group to talk with Iran and Syria about stabilizing the situation in Iraq. Rice said yesterday the two countries should not “be paid” to end their “destabilizing behavior.”

Democrats spearheaded the challenge to Bush’s new policy in a conflict that has killed more than 3,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he expects to have the votes, with the support of some Republicans, to pass a resolution opposing the new deployment, which would bring U.S. troop levels in Iraq to more than 150,000. Though such a resolution is nonbinding, Reid said, “I think that [bipartisan passage] will be the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq.”

But leading Democrats stopped short of threatening to block funding for the new forces, mindful that it would give Bush and his allies a chance to accuse them of abandoning the troops.

The Bush administration is expected to submit its supplemental budget for spending on the war in late February. House Democrats may not be able to attach conditions before March or April.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said it was too late to block the increase of troops. “The surge, if that’s what you’d like to call it, is under way,” he said.

Instead, cutting off money should be looked at as a long-term strategy, Durbin said. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, is weighing attaching strings to war appropriations, such as preventing redeployment of troops until they’ve had 12 months of rest.

Also yesterday:

• An ABC News-Washington Post poll showed Bush faces a hard sell with the U.S. public, with 61 percent opposed to sending more troops and 36 percent supporting it. A CBS poll showed 30 percent believed the troop increase was a bad idea.

• U.S. peace activists held the first of what they said would be thousands of protests to block the plan, which they said had fueled a fresh anti-war surge.

• A day after his televised White House speech announcing the plan, Bush told Army personnel and their families in Fort Benning, Ga., it was the “best chance of success” but would not have an immediate impact in quelling violence.

Compiled from Reuters, The Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times and McClatchy Newspapers

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