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Talabani Urges Congress to Keep Focus on Iraq

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

There has been a series of deadly bombings in Baghdad today. More than 150 people, mostly Shiites, were killed in three separate attacks. The latest violence comes as Iraq's provisional president, Jalal Talabani, is in Washington, DC. He paid a visit yesterday to the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to turn their attention to a war that's been overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina. Some say the Iraq War is now competing with emergency spending at home. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

After meeting at the White House with President Bush and being told the US won't lose its resolve in Iraq, the Iraqi leader called on Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

Representative DENNIS HASTERT (Speaker of the House): Good afternoon. It's certainly our honor to have President Talabani, the president of Iraq, here today.

WELNA: Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who opposed invading Iraq, stood alongside the Iraqi leader but said nothing. Talabani declared that thanks to the American people, Iraq is now free.

President JALAL TALABANI (Iraq): I am here to meet our friends, to brief them about the situation in Iraq and answer their questions and ask them to continue their support.

WELNA: And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also pleaded for such support on the Senate floor.

Senator BILL FRIST (Senate Majority Leader): The challenge is great, but we must persevere. America's security will depend on it.

WELNA: But Frist's exhortations failed to persuade some. West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, a longtime opponent of the war, replied that it's time for the US to begin to bring its troops home from Iraq.

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): It is time for a national epiphany. The sound of Katrina's bugle must be heeded. We cannot continue to commit billions of dollars in Iraq when our own people--our own people--are so much in need.

WELNA: Another Democratic senator, Barack Obama of Illinois, said the cost of Katrina's aftermath is bound to raise new questions about what's being spent on Iraq.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Something's got to give. You can't cut the estate tax, fund Iraq and fund Katrina reconstruction, even as we're grappling with how to handle entitlement spending for future generations. We can't do all those things. We've got to have some agreement on a responsible fiscal policy, and so I think it puts everything on the table.

WELNA: But Arizona Republican John McCain says one cause should not cancel the other.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Clearly this nation is capable of handling both expenses associated with Katrina and the Iraq War. But there's no doubt that Katrina is having a negative effect on support for the war. That's not in my view; that's what the polls say.

WELNA: Despite those polls that show a majority of Americans think invading Iraq was not worth it, others, such as Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, believe there's still political will to keep fighting there.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): The American people are committed to Iraq. Even if they thought now that they wish we hadn't done it, they are not saying, `Let's just pull the troops out and come home and wash our hands of them.'

WELNA: But it was another Republican, Louisiana's David Vitter, who put the new reality facing Congress in the starkest terms yesterday. `I arrived back yesterday,' Vitter said, `from the battle field of the other Gulf war.'

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.