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Handful in House GOP join opposition to troop buildup

WASHINGTON -- Breaking ranks, a small band of House Republicans declared its opposition to a troop buildup in Iraq yesterday, and President Bush appeared resigned to the passage of a nonbinding measure disapproving of his decision.

"I'm going to make it very clear to the members of Congress, starting now, that they need to fund our troops," the president said, looking past this week's debate toward congressional action next month on his request for nearly $100 billion for the military.

Bush gave a news conference at the White House timed -- coincidentally or not -- for the hour that Republican critics of his war policies took their turn in a marathon debate on the House floor.

"I am personally very high on President Bush, but on the matter of troop escalation, I am not in agreement," said Representative Howard Coble, Republican of North Carolina.

"I insist that we do not maintain an eternal presence in Iraq, if for no other reason than the cost to the taxpayers, which has been astronomically unbelievable," he said. He added that the war has cost the lives of more than 3,100 US troops .

Coble was one of fewer than a dozen Republicans to swing behind the measure, which declares that Congress "disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush . . . to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."

The 95-word measure adds that "Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States armed forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq."

Approval is expected tomorrow, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada has announced plans to try for a vote on an identical bill in the next few weeks. Prospects there are uncertain, because Republicans have said they will also demand a vote on an alternative measure that says Congress should not cut funds for troops in the field.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, has repeatedly described the nonbinding measure as merely the first step in a longer campaign to end US participation in the nearly four-year-old conflict.

Several Democrats have said they favor cutting funds to accomplish that, and Bush was eager to lay down a marker on that issue.

"They have every right to express their opinion, and it is a nonbinding resolution," he said of the measure before the House. Looking ahead, he added that Congress soon will "be able to vote on a piece of legislation that is binding, a bill providing emergency funding for our troops. . . . We have a responsibility, all of us here in Washington, to make sure that our men and women in uniform have the resources and flexibility they need."

Republican leaders predict that as many as two dozen party members could vote for the nonbinding repudiation of the troop increase. Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina led the GOP rebels during debate on the House floor.

"I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat, Al Qaeda," he said.

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