House Prepares for Debate on Iraq Policy

The House will spend much of the week debating U.S. policy in Iraq. The product of all the talk is likely to be a mild, nonbinding rebuke of President Bush's plan for troop increases. Meanwhile, the White House is talking about Iran.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The House of Representatives will spend most of this week debating President Bush's policy in Iraq. And by the time the week is over, it's possible that members of both parties will have voiced their opposition to the president's decision to send more troops into combat.

Joining us now, as she does every Monday, is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So for much of the week the House will debate Iraq policy. But the outcome of that debate hardly seems in doubt, Cokie.

ROBERTS: No, it does not seem in doubt. But the House wants to get on the record and various members of the House want to get on the record. They're operating under what's called the five-minute rule, which means that every single solitary member of the House of Representatives can get up and speak for five minutes on these resolutions. And they are planning it as if it were a major debate on something that would be binding on the president, but of course it is not. It is just a sense of the House of Representatives and it is likely to be very narrowly crafted saying that the House disapproves of the president's surge in troops right now into Iraq.

Now the Republicans will have an opportunity to write their own resolution. But, as you say, many Republican members are likely to go along with the Democrats because their voters are not happy with the way the war is going. But the Republican leadership is trying to combat that, come up with a resolution of its own, and at least have the debate, which will be going on for several days here, reflect the president's policy in some way that is favorable to the president.

MONTAGNE: And why is the House able to move along like this when the Senate is still seems to be at an impasse.

ROBERTS: Well, part of that of course is the rules. The House operates under very strict rules. And the majority does rule and can bring legislation to the floor. But it's also true that the - this is the way the two bodies are designed. The House is designed as a - elected every two years to respond quickly to the demands of the voters, and we certainly saw in the last election voters demanding some change in policy in Iraq. And the Senate is supposed to be more deliberative.

Now, sometimes they're oddly deliberative. And I think that can be said about this resolution. There will be many senators who voted against it before they vote for it. But they now do expect to get to some votes on resolutions in the Senate easy this week, or next as well.

MONTAGNE: So Congress is debating Iraq. The White House, for its part, seems to want to be talking about nothing but Iran these last few days and its alleged involvement in helping Shia militias in Iraq. What's going on there?

ROBERTS: It was an extraordinary briefing apparently yesterday morning in Baghdad, where senior military officials gave an anonymous - I mean, obviously, the people in the room knew who they were but they could not be identified in the briefing to reporters - telling them that the Iranian government is behind the shipment of weapons into Iraq that have been blamed for the deaths of 170 U.S. soldiers over the last few years. And these are called EFPs, or explosively formed penetrators, very deadly weapons that have very much upset our troops there. And these are not made in Iraq, that they're smuggled over the border. And so, according to the U.S. military, that means Iranians officials are involved.

The Iranian government has denied it all, says the U.S. is trying to build a case against Iran. And is worried - there's some worry about that here as well. That the United States is putting together intelligence to go into Iran in the same way that they did into Iraq a few years ago. The administration has adamantly denied that.

MONTAGNE: Well, if it has no intention of invading Iran, where is this campaign, if you will, against Iran and its leaders headed?

ROBERTS: Well, it's hard to say. But it's likely to be to the allies in Europe to keep up pressure against Iran, and to the Iranian government itself to back down on its nuclear development. And so some extent that seems to be working, Renee. There's been conciliatory noises out of Tehran over the weekend about its nuclear program.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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