WASHINGTON -President Barack Obama sought yesterday to quell growing complaints from members of Congress about his plans for reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, inviting lawmakers to a White House meeting on the eve of a North Carolina speech in which he is expected to announce that he will pull out many combat troops by August 2010.
After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California complained that the level of troops - 50,000 - who would remain in Iraq is too high, other senior Democrats expressed similar concerns. Not one member of the Democratic leadership, aside from Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, defended the new Obama plan, which will take three months longer than he promised and still leave a significant force on the ground.
White House officials said Obama had reached his decision after consulting with military commanders and would unveil the details in his address today during a trip to Camp Lejeune, N.C. Even before making the plan official, Obama faced resistance from members of his party as well as from some Republicans who said that the idea of a withdrawal would not have been possible had it not been for the added troops - the Bush administration "surge" - that he opposed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, registered his complaints about the troop levels that will remain in Iraq even after 2010. "I'm happy to listen to the secretary of defense and the president, but when they talk about 50,000, that's a little higher number than I had anticipated," he said.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the pullout "has to be done responsibly, we all agree. But 50,000 is more than I would have thought, and we await the justification."