WASHINGTON -- The military's top generals have warned that Iraq is on the cusp of a civil war and that US troops must remain in large numbers until at least next spring. But if the winds suddenly blow a different direction, Congress is ready to celebrate with a $20 million victory party.
Lawmakers included language in this year's defense spending bill, approved last week, allowing them to spend the money. The funds for ``commemoration of success" in Iraq and Afghanistan were originally tucked into last year's defense measure, but went unspent amid an uptick in violence in both countries that forced the Pentagon to extend tours of duty for thousands of troops.
Senate majority whip Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, is the original sponsor of the provision, which Democrats agreed to add to last year's defense bill. Senate Republicans kept the authorization in the 2007 bill. With elections five weeks away, Democrats are citing it as another example of where the GOP has gone astray in handling the war in Iraq.
``If the Bush administration is planning victory celebrations, Americans deserve to know what their plan is to get us to a victory in Iraq," said Rebecca Kirszner, spokeswoman for Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada.
McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, said he thought the finger-pointing by Democrats was silly because the provision was added last year by unanimous consent.
``Apparently they were for honoring the troops before they were against it," Stewart said.
Carolyn Weyforth, spokeswoman for Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said, ``Republicans are confident we will be victorious in the ongoing war in terror, and we look forward to a time when those funds can be used to honor the men and women who have risked and given their lives."
Under the language, the president could ``designate a day of celebration" to honor troops serving in the two wars. The president also could call on the nation ``to observe that day with appropriate ceremonies and activities" and issue awards to troops who have served honorably.
The Pentagon could spend as much as $20 million of its $532 billion budget in 2007 for the commemoration, minus any private contributions it might receive for such an event.
The money would be available for the 2007 budget year, which began Oct. 1.
About 140,000 US troops remain in Iraq, with a drawdown not expected until at least early next year.
About 20,000 more are in Afghanistan. Last year, Bush administration and Pentagon officials had hoped thousands of troops could be brought home before the Nov. 7 elections.
Proclaiming victory in the Iraq war has already proved to be tricky business.
President Bush was slammed by critics for delivering a speech in May 2003 aboard an aircraft carrier while standing under a banner reading ``Mission Accomplished." While troops had successfully stormed Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad, the fight over control in the nation against a violent insurgency had just begun.
Vice President Dick Cheney also was ridiculed for suggesting last year that the insurgency was in its ``final throes."