The two Democrats who will lead the Armed Services committees next year indicated Wednesday they will not relent in opposing President Bush's Iraq policies and may turn up the heat.
Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, in the first hearings on Iraq since Democrats regained power in last week's elections, said the Bush administration had bungled the war and the U.S. soon should begin to pull out troops.
Levin, 72, and Skelton, 74, have been the leading voices among Democrats on the war. Known as staunch supporters of the military and its budget, the lawmakers have a tough road ahead.
Their fellow Democrats are divided on exactly how to stabilize Iraq.
Also, Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, warned on Wednesday against setting a withdrawal timetable. Abizaid told the House and Senate committees that the troop levels should stay roughly the same as now, with more emphasis needed on training Iraqi forces.
But Levin told reporters he was encouraged the general said all options should remain on the table.
"The only way for Iraqi leaders to squarely face that reality is for President Bush to tell them that the United States will begin a phased redeployment of our forces within four to six months," Levin said. The senator, recognizable by the reading glasses he always wears on the tip of his nose, is known for his dogged style of questioning witnesses.
At the House hearing, Skelton said he not feeling optimistic about Iraq.
"The administration must look carefully at our objectives in Iraq: whether they are achievable, by what means and whether they are worth the cost in money, lives and military readiness," he said.
Skelton, who focuses his efforts on improving combat readiness of troops, backs a plan that would set a formula to send home troops. For every three Iraqi units deemed proficient, one U.S. unit should come home, he said.