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Bush faces pressures over Iraq policy
( 2003-09-24 11:30) (Agencies)

His support slipping at home and American military deaths mounting in Iraq, President Bush is squeezed by opposing forces as he pursues postwar plans for a nation long oppressed by Saddam Hussein.

Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress are eager to ease the burdens of stabilization and reconstruction borne by Americans, while European powers want the administration to surrender some of its power to shape Iraq's political future.

Self-government for the Iraqis must be achieved "by orderly and democratic means ... neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties," Bush told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, remarks that underscored continuing disagreement with the French and Germans over the pace of the transfer of authority.

Yet scarcely two hours later, L. Paul Bremer, U.S. administrator in Baghdad, met privately with Republican senators, some eager to require Iraqi repayment of $20 billion the administration is seeking for reconstruction costs.

"I'd like to have a stake for the American people that can be paid back," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told reporters afterward. It's money the administration wants lawmakers to approve as part of a grant in a reconstruction program that Bremer likened on Monday to the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II.

In one form or another, Congress probably will approve most or all the $87 billion Bush seeks to pay for military and reconstruction costs in Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac said he won't stand in the way at the United Nations of a resolution that Bush wants to clear the way for other nations to contribute troops and money.

But for now, the president is confronting a new round of conflict with world leaders who opposed his decision to go to war with Iraq last fall, winter and spring and challenges from Republicans who detect signs of growing impatience by their constituents and from Democrats who are longtime war critics.

Even the strongest supporters of Bush's war policy gently concede modest misgivings in the GOP ranks.

"You have to admit with some members (of the House) there was sticker shock at $87 billion. They're trying to grapple with that," said Rep. Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., mindful that some fellow Republicans are balking at a $20 billion reconstruction grant rather than loan, said, "It's natural to be having that discussion."

There's plenty of evidence that Bush's public support has faded in recent weeks. In a recent Pew poll, for example, 36 percent of those surveyed favored spending an additional $87 billion for rebuilding costs in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 57 percent opposed it.

In addition, 51 percent said the United States should give up some control of military decisions in Iraq to the United Nations to get other countries to provide more troops. As well, 58 percent said they do not think Bush has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion, and 63 percent say he has not explained his plans clearly to resolve the situation in Iraq.

In all, the Pentagon has reported 165 U.S. military deaths since the president declared an end to major military combat May 1.

The polling results and continued casualties come at the same time Bush has drawn ever bolder criticism from Democrats opposed to his policies.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said last Friday the case for going to war against Iraq was a fraud "made up in Texas" to give Republicans a political boost, and the money for the war is being used to bribe foreign leaders to send troops.

Bush called the remarks "uncivil." DeLay said they were "just as disgusting as they are false." Several GOP senators sharply assailed the Massachusetts lawmaker Tuesday in a coordinated attack on the Senate floor.

Chastened slightly, if at all, Kennedy offered a self-defense that omitted the charges of fraud and bribery but said: "Our policy cannot be all take and no give."

That was Chirac's point at the United Nations, as well.

"In an open world," the French president said Tuesday, "no one can live in isolation, no one can act alone in the name of all, and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules." France has said it wants power handed over to the Iraqis in a matter of months, a position echoed by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Yet in a private meeting with the French president, according to a senior administration official, Bush told Chirac "the premature transfer of sovereignty, which has been the French proposal, is just not in the cards."

And a few hundred miles away, according to congressional officials, Bremer told Republican senators the administration remains opposed to converting reconstruction aid to Iraq into a loan from the United States.

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