WASHINGTON – A leading Democrat hinted Thursday that a compromise is near for a temporary surge of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who sponsored a resolution last year that called for troops to begin to redeploy from Iraq by the year's end, said he could support a temporary surge with conditions.
"There are a lot of ways you could have a surge, it's not just 'surge versus non-surge,'" Levin said. "If a temporary surge is part of a reduction of U.S. forces in four to six months with political milestones to achieving a political solution agreed upon by Iraqis" then he would be on board.
Levin, D-Mich., said he wanted to see some milestones achieved before a surge so that Iraqis understood that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended. President Bush is seeking a change in course for the war in Iraq and met with Levin recently. Levin said he didn't know what Bush has decided to do regarding a way forward in Iraq. The president is expected to offer his strategy in an address next week.
"I can't believe the president is going to come forward and say 'we're going to increase troops,' " Levin said, adding that it would merely be a "military solution" and "counterintuitive to what's happening on the ground."
Levin noted that some commanders who served in Iraq have said no military solution can be found there. Levin also pointed out the midterm election results and said the American people wouldn't support such a move by the president.
No specifics have yet been offered by the president about whether and how many troops will be added to the existing 140,000 force and for how long. Foreshadowing the debate to come, many Democrats have been rallying against the notion, saying Iraqis must take a stronger role in security matters.
"The Iraqis need to understand that the responsibility for the future of that country is theirs," Rep.-elect Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., said Saturday in the Democrats' weekly radio address.
"I have not heard from our military clamoring for additional soldiers," Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., said upon returning from a trip to Iraq with Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff.
Marshall and Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, visited Iraq during the Christmas holiday and reported that some progress was being made in Anbar province where Iraqi security forces and local leaders were collaborating to push out Al Qaeda fighters. But, Skelton said, violence in Baghdad has accelerated and additional U.S. troops might not help.
"I will look carefully and with an open mind at any proposal the president may make, but my view remains that removing some number of American troops -- however small -- would send a more powerful message to our Iraqi partners than raising force levels," Skelton said.
Levin and Skelton have both invited Defense Secretary Robert Gates to testify before their committees. Levin said he would like that hearing to take place Jan. 11.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has promised to testify before his committee after Bush makes his announcement.
The debate also will play out in Congress's review of the president's spending requests for the war. The Pentagon says it needs an additional $99.7 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until the end of the current fiscal year in September. That request is expected to arrive on Capitol Hill in February.
Democrats are eyeing ways to attach conditions to war funds that won't hurt troops and may even attract Republican support.
Democrats also may be asked to support a plan lifting restrictions on reserve deployments to ease the strain on active-duty troops. In December, Schoomaker warned that the Army will break without adding more active-duty soldiers to the ranks and changing current mobilization policies backed by Pentagon civilians.
The issue of allowing lengthy involuntary deployments is a tricky one for lawmakers who want to reduce the pressure on active-duty forces but also hear from reservists that they too are facing serious hardships.
Biden and other Democrats agree that Iraq will dominate much of their work next year, but contend they must not be blamed for a war run ultimately by the president. "This is President Bush's war," Biden said.
But political experts say the public might not agree.
"When you're in the minority, you don't have to do much more than criticize the status quo that wasn't working," said Norman Ornstein, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. "When you're in the majority, people will look to you for leadership."
FOX News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.