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Sen. Reid: Iraq devolves into 'civil war'

Democratic leader will try to revive Senate debate on Iraq

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

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Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, argues a civil war has broken out in Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Declaring that he believes the situation in Iraq has devolved into a civil war, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday he plans to try to bring the war back up for debate on the Senate floor.

The Nevada Democrat said he has been "somewhat gingerly approaching this.... No longer. There is a civil war going on in Iraq. In the last two months, more than 6,000 Iraqis have been killed. That's averaging more than 100 a day being killed in Iraq and we need to make sure there is a debate on this."

Republicans questioned why Reid wants to go over old ground and were ready to highlight the divisions among Democrats once again. (Watch how daily routines prove deadly for Iraq civilians -- 2:17)

"Talk about your bad summer reruns," said Eric Ueland, Chief of Staff to Majority Leader Bill Frist, "if they want to do that we'll go to the mats," he said.

Ueland threatened that Republicans would offer a proposal from Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, which calls for U.S. troops to come home by July of 2007.

That plan garnered only 13 Democratic votes in June, and illustrated the party's divide over the issue.

Republicans offered Kerry's plan before he did in June as well.

A Republican aide also warned that another debate about the Iraq war could prevent the Senate from completing work on necessary military spending bills.

Bob Stevenson, a Frist spokesman, told CNN, "We need to get the defense appropriations bill done and I would hope they would cooperate in getting the appropriations bill done to fund our troops, rather than engaging in partisan political games."

A 'cut and run' strategy?

Last month Senate Democrats offered two Iraq resolutions centering on U.S. troop withdrawal, and during several days of highly partisan debate, Republicans accused them of advocating a "cut and run" strategy.

Senate Democratic leaders call Iraq the top issue on voters' minds this election year and say they want to continue talking about it in Congress, especially since the situation appears to be deteriorating.

"The American people find it hard to believe that we can continue with our daily business here ignoring the obvious, which is the daily situation is getting worse," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin.

"It is more dangerous, we're still losing American lives and the Iraqis have not stepped up to defend their own country," the Illinois Democrat said. "That is a fact, and that will be a fact that people will remember in November."

Tactical error?

Some Democratic strategists told CNN at the time that Democratic senators made a tactical error in allowing June's Iraq debate to focus on troop withdrawal, an issue that divides the party, instead of playing up what they call administration blunders and lack of accountability from a GOP Congress.

Durbin noted that 39 Democrats voted for a non-binding resolution that would have urged the president to begin a phased troop withdrawal this year, but, he said, "Republicans said nothing. They had no response."

"We know, and they (Republicans) know, that this is the number one issue on the minds of people across America. When they say they want significant change in America, and you ask them what they're talking about, their answer is Iraq," Durbin said.

Democratic leaders say they do not yet know what kind of resolution or resolutions they plan to offer, but they hope to come up with what Reid called "lots of" Iraq-related measures the last week of July, when the Senate debates the defense appropriations bill.

Senate rules governing a funding bill limit their options.

A part of their strategy appears to be challenging Republicans, especially those facing tough re-election campaigns, on whether they will remain squarely behind the president, as they were during June's debate.

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