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Iraq Transition

Democrats to Bush: No more troops to Iraq

Story Highlights

In letter to Bush, Pelosi and Reid reject troop increase in Iraq
Pentagon shuffles top commanders in Iraq
Senators meet with president, demand specifics
Spy chief John Negroponte moves to State Department, pending Senate approval
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The new leaders of Congress on Friday urged President Bush not to pour more U.S. troops into the war in Iraq, calling the idea "a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed."

Their open letter comes as Bush considers a new plan for the war, shuffles his Iraq commanders and moves his spy chief to handle Iraqi diplomacy.

"Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain. And it would undermine our efforts to get the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote in a letter released Friday afternoon.

"We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq." (Read the letter)

Bush has said he will announce a new war strategy sometime next week, and sources with knowledge of the president's deliberations have told CNN that he is likely to order a "surge" of 20,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops to Iraq to bolster the roughly 140,000 now there. (Watch why politicians call a troop increase a 'surge' Video)

But the Democratic leaders who took control of Congress on Thursday oppose the idea, and many of Bush's fellow Republicans have expressed skepticism as well.

The letter from Reid, D-Nevada, and Pelosi, D-California, urged Bush to begin withdrawing U.S. troops within six months and shift the mission of the remaining force toward training and supporting Iraqi troops and battling terrorism.

"After nearly four years of combat, tens of thousands of U.S. casualties, and over $300 billion, it is time to bring the war to a close," they wrote. "We, therefore, strongly encourage you to reject any plans that call for our getting our troops any deeper into Iraq."

Generals replaced

The Pentagon shook up the ranks of U.S. commanders in Iraq on Friday, acting to bring home the top American general there and replace him with a general who has served there twice before. (Watch how analysts think the new leaders will do Video)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the changes Friday afternoon as recommendations to President Bush. All will require Senate confirmation.

Under the proposal, Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. and allied troops in Iraq, would return to Washington to serve as chief of staff of the Army, Gates said. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the former head of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, would be promoted to four-star rank and replace Casey at the U.S. command in Baghdad. (Watch Bush's olive branch to military commanders Video)

Petraeus' old division was part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and he won high marks from observers for his relationships with Iraqi civilian leaders during the occupation. He returned to Iraq the following year to lead efforts to train the Iraqi military, and is one of the main authors of the Army's new manual on counterinsurgency warfare.

Meanwhile, Adm. William Fallon, now head of the U.S. Pacific Command, would replace the retiring Gen. John Abizaid as the chief of Central Command -- the headquarters of American forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Fox Fallon is one of the best strategic thinkers in uniform today and his reputation for innovation is without peer," Gates said in a written statement. "Subject to confirmation, he is exactly the right person for this most challenging assignment."

Abizaid had told a Senate committee in November that troop levels in Iraq "need to stay where they are," and that any benefit of additional troops would be offset by greater strain on the Army and Marine Corps.

But Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of the leading advocates of adding troops, said more force is needed to check Iraq's sectarian violence and allow Iraqis to reach a political solution to their conflicts. He said officers serving in Iraq support the idea.

"I believe there's only one thing worse than an overstretched military, and that's a broken and defeated military," said McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a possible presidential candidate in 2008.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, said he disagreed with the Democratic leaders with whom he caucuses in the Senate.

"The president has the authority under the Constitution as commander-in-chief during wartime to take decisive action," he said during an appearance with McCain at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Any steps by Congress to stop Bush from sending more troops "would be an extreme action in a time of war," he said.

Bush meets with senators

Bush said Thursday that his deliberations were not complete, and he invited several senators to the White House Friday afternoon to discuss Iraq.

Emerging from the meeting, Illinois Democrat Barack Obama said he believed the president when he said he was listening to opposing views.

"I think he recognizes that the status quo is unacceptable and has to change," Obama said.

A few minutes later, Bush spokesman Tony Snow confirmed that: "Nobody is satisfied with the status quo in Iraq, including the president."

Snow said Bush values the input from the letter and the meeting.

"That's precisely the kind of dialogue the president would love to have," Snow said.

Some of the senators told Bush they want more specifics from him.

"What I also indicated to him at the end was that one of the problems I have with an escalation of troop level is lack of clarity of mission, but also that there are no apparent consequences when the Iraqi government does not step up and deal with some of the sectarian violence," Obama said.

"I think all of us want the best possible outcome in Iraq, Democrat and Republican," Obama said.

Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu said, "I cannot support adding troops to Iraq unless and until the president makes a compelling case as to why they are needed and as to the clear mission objectives for their presence. So far, that case has not been made."

Earlier, Landrieu said, "I think the American people's patience is wearing thin with vagueness. And while people initially understand the 'fog of war,' it's important ... for there to be some clearing of that fog."

One Republican lawmaker, New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson, said Friday that the U.S. military's recent effort to crack down on the sectarian killings that plague Iraq have failed "because I believe we were trying to do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves."

"I am not a supporter of a surge to do for the Iraqis what the Iraqis will not do for themselves," said Wilson, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. "I also have not seen a clarity of mission, and I think that's the greatest weakness that we have right now."

The U.S. death toll topped 3,000 in late December, while estimates of Iraqi fatalities range from more than 50,000 to several hundred thousand. Meanwhile, the war has become increasingly unpopular among the American public, with fewer than a third of Americans telling CNN in a December poll that they still support the war.

Diplomatic shuffle

Meanwhile, Bush announced Friday that John Negroponte, currently director of national intelligence, will become the new deputy secretary of state, where he's expected to handle Iraq affairs. (Full story)

Administration officials said on Thursday that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is the leading candidate to be the next American ambassador to the United Nations. (Watch Bush explain why he wants to move intelligence and diplomatic officials Video)

CNN's Ted Barrett and Kyra Phillips contributed to this report.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate's Democratic leader urge reduced, not increased, troop levels in Iraq.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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