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Lawmakers chafe at steady-state Iraq policy

Senate Democrats to try again to force a faster exit of US troops.

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Two days of marathon testimony from America's senior commander in Iraq and its top diplomat there gave a new impetus to lawmakers in Congress who aim to force a change of course in Iraq.

If not, the United States could be facing at least a 10-year presence in Iraq, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after a closed meeting Tuesday between congressional leaders and President Bush. As early as next week, Senate Democrats say, they will make another run at passing bipartisan legislation to force a faster exit of US forces than the one Mr. Bush is expected to outline in a televised address Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT.

In testimony this week on progress on the ground in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker said they would advise Bush to begin a drawdown of US forces from Iraq by mid-December and to reduce the number of combat troops to pre-"surge" levels – about 130,000 – by mid-July 2008. The president is likely to embrace that general framework in his speech Thursday, with the caveat that conditions in Iraq must be improving. It will take more time, perhaps until March, to determine if and when troop levels can be drawn down further, Bush is expected to say.

"We're watching political theater at its most complex here," says Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan think tank on security policy. "The president will say he's just doing what the generals told him. The Democrats are playing their role by being critical. Then, the president will say that whatever bad happens is their fault, because they didn't give their complete support. But the whole performance is deep cover for getting out."

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