Congressional resolution condemning Iraq troop buildup ’emboldens enemy’

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WASHINGTON (AP) – A congressional rebuke of President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq would undercut American commanders in a way that “emboldens the enemy,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates says.

At his first Pentagon news conference since taking office Dec. 18, Gates was asked whether a congressional resolution criticizing Bush’s plan would offer the insurgents new hope.

“It’s pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn’t have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries,” Gates said Friday.

“I think it’s hard to measure that with any precision, but it seems pretty straightforward that any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to those folks,” Gates said, referring to the anti-government forces in Baghdad. He added that he was certain this was not the intent of those who support the congressional resolution, “but that’s the effect.”

The Pentagon is studying whether it could accelerate the deployment of the five additional Army brigades that are to be dispatched to Baghdad by late May to bolster security in the capital, Gates said.

In remarks at the White House, Bush challenged lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his buildup. “I’m the decision maker” on troop levels, Bush said.

Vice President Dick Cheney said this week that the buildup would proceed as announced, even if the congressional resolution wins full Senate approval.

Bush spoke to reporters after meeting with Gates and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who will replace Gen. George Casey as the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Bush said he wanted Petraeus to head to Baghdad as quickly as possible to implement his new strategy, which includes more robust economic development efforts as well as more troops.

The president challenged those who favor a legislative rebuke of the troop buildup to put forward an alternative.

Gates talked to reporters as Senate Democrats prepared for the start of debate next week on the resolution of opposition to Bush’s decision to send an additional 21,500 U.S. forces into battle in Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that a quick test vote would probably be taken if Republicans try to delay or block the move.

Petraeus, who served in command positions in Iraq twice previously, has said he needs all 21,500 extra troops that Bush has ordered to Iraq in order to quell the raging sectarian violence in Baghdad. In his view the extra force, if successful, would provide more opportunity for political reconciliation among the Iraqis.

Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing last week that he wanted the 21,500 additional troops in Iraq as quickly as possible. Gates said Friday that they had discussed this further and that the Pentagon would see if there are ways of speeding up at least some of the brigades.

Until now, the Pentagon had envisioned sending a brigade each month over the next five months.

Gates was asked about potential opposition to the Senate confirmation of Casey as the next Army chief of staff, given the unsatisfactory progress in Iraq under his command. Gates said Casey was the professional military’s first choice.

“I think he’s eminently qualified” to head the Army, Gates said.

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