WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush predicted heavy fighting this summer for US troops in Iraq as the US Congress moved on 24 May toward a tense vote that would give Bush the money he wants for the unpopular war.
With an evening vote possible on a $120 billion bill that mostly funds the war in Iraq, Senate Democratic leaders who had tried but failed to get Bush to accept a troop pullout timetable urged Democrats to set aside their anger and support the troops.
“I hope the bill is in a position where we can fund the troops without a lot of animosity at this stage,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “People can make whatever statements they want in regard to the war, and I’m sure that will happen. But I think that we need to get to this as quickly as we can.”
Bush used a Rose Garden news conference to urge passage of the legislation in order to support the troops he said face a difficult summer of heavy fighting and more casualties.
He predicted Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda will attempt to influence the US debate on the war by launching spectacular attacks in advance of the US military’s assessment of the war’s progress in September.
“It could be a bloody -- it could be a very difficult August,” Bush said.
Lawmakers were racing against a deadline to give Bush the funding, just before a congressional recess and as combat money was running out.
In a strange turn, Democrats were shepherding an Iraq bill through Congress that many of them do not support. Many in their party were outraged.
“We understand that there have to be some continuing operations in Iraq, but it has to be coupled with a plan and funding being used to redeploy the troops. And that is missing from this bill. So, it’s a failure,” Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold told CNN.
If all goes as planned, the House of Representatives will vote first on 24 May, before sending to the Senate for final passage the measure that will raise the total war spending to more than half a trillion dollars since late 2001.
Bush held back from crowing about his apparent victory on the funding bill, instead trying to convince skeptical Americans of the need to stay in Iraq and avoid the catastrophic chaos that would ensue if US troops withdrew.
Faced with demands to make progress in Iraq by September from many lawmakers, Bush pleaded for patience but made clear September will be an important period, when the US commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, will report on the impact of the troop buildup and make a recommendation on how to proceed.
Bush was peppered with questions about Iraq and clung to his belief that the United States must stay in Iraq to quell an al Qaeda that wants to strike America again.
“I can assure you, al Qaeda, who would like to attack us again, have got plenty of patience and persistence. And the question is, will we?” said Bush.