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Iraq Transition

Kennedy fights 'immense new mistake' of troop surge

Story Highlights

NEW: Senate majority leader says symbolic vote on Iraq scheduled for next week
• Sen. Kennedy says it's a mistake to send more troops into "a civil war"
• Bush is expected to announce a plan Wednesday to send 20,000 troops to Iraq
• Kennedy's legislation is one of several Democratic responses to the Bush plan
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Edward Kennedy launched a pre-emptive strike Tuesday against President Bush's anticipated plans to send more troops to Iraq.

The Massachusetts Democrat introduced legislation to require congressional approval before force levels can be increased.

Bush is to address the nation Wednesday night with details of his new Iraq policy, which reportedly includes a plan to send at least 20,000 troops -- what the administration is calling a "surge" -- in an effort to curb the escalating violence there. (Watch how Democrats may be gearing up for a battle over the proposed troop surge Video)

Kennedy, a leading opponent of the war and senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said any troop increase would be "an immense new mistake."

Kennedy said he introduced the legislation "to reclaim the rightful role of Congress and the people's right to a full voice in the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq."

He added that the bill says "that no additional troops can be sent and no additional dollars can be spent on such an escalation unless and until Congress approves the president's plan."

Showdown looms

The legislation will likely set the stage for a showdown between the White House and the new Democratic-controlled Congress over Bush's anticipated new strategy. Kennedy is accustomed to locking horns.

Kennedy was among 23 senators, 22 of them Democrats, who voted against the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Kennedy called it "the best vote I've cast in my 44 years in the United States Senate."

Kennedy said in January 2005 that the United States should begin withdrawing its troops. He also has invited intense White House criticism for drawing parallels between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War.

"The American people sent a clear message in November that we must change course in Iraq and begin to withdraw our troops, not escalate their presence," Kennedy said, referring to the November midterm elections in which Democrats wrested control of Congress from Republicans. (Watch lessons learned from past surges Video)

"The way to start is by acting on the president's new plan," Kennedy said. "An escalation, whether it is called a surge or any other name, is still an escalation, and I believe it would be an immense new mistake."

The senator emphasized his support for the forces currently in Iraq but said that bolstering troop levels is not an option for the war-torn nation. Kennedy has consistently said that Iraq, like Vietnam, requires a political solution rather than a military one.

"It would compound the original misguided decision to invade Iraq. We cannot simply speak out against an escalation of troops in Iraq. We must act to prevent it," Kennedy added. "The best immediate way to support our troops is by refusing to inject more and more of them into the cauldron of a civil war that can be resolved only by the people and government of Iraq."

Mandate expired

Kennedy also said that the original mandate authorizing the Iraq war has expired because "the mission of our armed forces today in Iraq bears no resemblance whatever to the mission authorized by Congress."

The Iraq War resolution "authorized a war to destroy weapons of mass destruction. But there were no WMDs to destroy. It authorized a war with Saddam Hussein. But today Saddam is no more. It authorized a war because Saddam was allied with al Qaeda. But there was no alliance," Kennedy said.

Kennedy's vehement opposition to a troop surge is not shared by all Democrats.

Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with Democrats, have predicted most Democrats won't deny funding for a troop increase.

The two senators released a letter they sent to Bush, urging him to send additional troops to Iraq. Graham implored Congress not to propose cutting off funding or capping troop levels. Doing so would be "proposing defeat," he said.

Also, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told the Detroit Free Press on Monday that he would consider sending more troops to Iraq if Bush agrees to start withdrawing troops within six months.

Dems considering options

Kennedy's bill is one of several attempts by Democrats to prevent the war from escalating. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement Tuesday applauding his Massachusetts colleague for his gusto, but he reserved judgment on Kennedy's plan.

"Senator Kennedy's resolution underscores the significant opposition on the Hill and with the American people to the president's plan. This is only one of several ideas about how to respond to the president's proposal on Iraq," said Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman.

Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, indicated Monday they might consider blocking funds for a troop spike. Other senators have said they are considering legislation to cap the number of troops authorized to fight.

Reid said Tuesday that senators will vote next week on a symbolic resolution opposing any escalation of the war. Several Republicans are likely to support it, he said.

"I really believe that if we can come up with a bipartisan approach to this escalation, it will do more to change the direction of that war in Iraq than any other thing that we can do," he said.

Reid's Republican counterpart, however, warned against micro-managing the war.

"I don't think [Congress] would be good at it. You can't run a war by a committee of 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Democrats are going to have to make a choice when it comes to Iraq.

"They're going to have to decide where they stand in terms of two issues: No. 1, do you want Iraq to succeed and, if so, what does that mean? And No. 2, do you believe in supporting the troops as you say and how do you express that support?" he said. "Those are questions that will be answered in the process of public debate and also in a lot of other considerations."

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.


SPECIAL REPORT

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