WASHINGTON – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and two other lawmakers are headed to Iraq this weekend as Congress engages in fierce debate over President Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to salvage the U.S. effort there.
Clinton, a Democrat from New York who is considering running for president, is traveling with Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who had also eyed the 2008 race but opted out, and Rep. John McHugh, a Republican from upstate New York.
The three, all members of armed services committees, are to meet with top Iraqi officials and U.S. military commanders. The trip also takes them to Afghanistan.
"This was the first opportunity we had to be able to go because of the long weekend, and it turns out that the timing is propitious because of the president's plans," said Clinton, who opposes Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.
During the trip, Clinton and McHugh will spend time with troops from the Army's 10th Mountain Division, which is based in New York and deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bayh stressed he wants to meet with top Iraqi officials and judge for himself how serious they are about using their own troops and leadership to stabilize the country.
"The essential truth in Iraq is that we can't do this for them," Bayh said. "We need to take away their security blanket."
McHugh has not been as critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war as the two Democrats, but like many Republicans in Congress he sounds increasingly exasperated with conditions in Iraq.
McHugh said he wanted to warn Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of the dwindling patience in Washington.
"It's folly to think that you can stabilize 80 percent of a country while one of the most important sites in the Middle East, Baghdad, is in total chaos. You can't just shove that under the rug," he said.
It's Clinton's third visit to Iraq. She went last in February 2005 with Sen. John McCain, a Republican presidential contender.
Although she opposes more U.S. troops for Iraq, Clinton wants to see more troops in Afghanistan, where "we seem to be on autopilot," she said.
"I wish we were discussing additional troops for Afghanistan. We are hearing increasingly troubling reports out of Afghanistan and we will be searching for accurate information about the true state of affairs both militarily and politically," she said.