The new majority leader in the US Senate, Harry Reid, said yesterday the Democrats would do everything they can to stop George Bush sending more troops to Iraq.
Mr Reid believed the president would not be able to find 20,000 US reinforcements for "one last push" in Iraq, a plan reported in the Guardian yesterday, because the armed forces were already stretched too thin.
"I'd rather doubt he'd do that, because we don't have the troops," said Mr Reid, who will become the most powerful figure in the Senate when the newly elected Congress convenes in January. "We don't have a single non-deployed army unit that is battle ready."
There is, however, little the new Democrat majority could do to stop the administration if it was determined to send more Americans into the fray in a final attempt to crush the insurgency and curb sectarian violence. Democrat leaders, fearful of being seen to betray American soldiers, have said they will not cut off war funding. Short of that, their power would be to pass resolutions and protest.
"We are not going to back off this," Mr Reid said. "We are going to do everything we can to let people know that if Bush was to go in this direction, we're going to speak out loudly. The whole situation in Iraq is breaking down, and the president has to realise that."
The Democrats have interpreted their election victory as a popular vote for a change of course in Iraq. After the election the president said he was open to new ideas and invited Mr Reid and his deputy, Dick Durbin, to the White House, but Mr Reid said it did not appear that the invitation augured an openness to a fresh approach. "He, in talking about Iraq, didn't give Senator Durbin and I a lot of hope he has a willingness to change," he said.
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) is due to deliver a report next month with recommendations on what course the US should take. It is far from clear that the ISG would support an increase of troops.
The White House has signalled that it will not be bound by the ISG's findings. It has also commissioned a military review of the situation by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Peter Pace, and has ordered a third assessment from its own national security council.
There are currently about 141,000 US troops in Iraq, and another 2,200-strong marine unit has this week been ordered into Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold.
But any big increase in troop levels would also meet resistance from the military. General John Abizaid, the head of US central command, told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that bringing in more troops would undermine the Iraqi government's credibility. However, he also warned that the unconditional withdrawal called for by the Democrats would trigger an escalation in sectarian violence.
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