The United States House of Representatives denounced President George W Bush's Iraq troop buildup on Friday in a symbolic challenge to his unpopular war strategy that is expected to lead to a mighty struggle over financing the extra troops.
The Democratic-led House voted 246-182 for a resolution that voices support for US forces but opposes the Republican president's decision to send 21,500 more troops to bolster security in Baghdad and violent Anbar province.
In Baghdad, US and Iraqi forces sweeping through the city encountered little resistance to their offensive. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, under heavy US pressure to show progress, told Bush the effort had been a "brilliant success" so far, while Bush said US patience was not unlimited.
The House measure would not force Bush to act, but its supporters hope to pressure him to reverse course and start bringing US forces home from the conflict, which has killed more than 3,100 American troops.
"Our troops have done a magnificent job (but) they cannot afford to continue to be policemen in a civil war," said Rep Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who co-sponsored the measure with Democrats.
As their next step, Democrats are considering ways to restrict Bush's use of $93.4 billion in new war funds to keep him from using it for the troop buildup.
Several Republicans condemned that as a "slow bleed" of the war effort.
"What we are saying today to the president is that 'we need a new direction,'" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said after the vote.
The Senate, which usually acts first in major foreign policy matters, has been deadlocked on procedural issues surrounding the Iraq debate.
Senate Democrats will try to break the impasse again on Saturday with a vote on whether to consider the House Iraq resolution. The House vote put it on record for the first time rejecting Bush's conduct of the nearly four-year war, which Congress authorized in October 2002.
The vote followed three days of debate, with hundreds of lawmakers speaking.
The resolution passed with support of all but two of the House's 233 Democrats and 17 of its 201 Republicans, many worried about their political fate should they stick with Bush.
Polls say most Americans oppose adding troops in Iraq.
Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said his party's defections were fewer than the 40 to 60 some expected, and said Democrats now faced divisions in the debate over whether to restrict war funds.
"The future of this debate is much more unifying for us and much more dividing for them," he said.
Some Democrats fear restricting funds could be seen as failing to support US troops.
Opponents of the resolution said it would leave Iraq open to "radical Islamic terrorists" such as in neighboring Iran, and called it unprecedented meddling in the president's authority to conduct a war.
The White House, which had been resigned to losing the vote, sought to shift attention to a coming battle over the war's funding.
Democratic leaders say they will not cut money for troops abroad but will try to attach conditions on war funds that would force Bush to halt the buildup.
Said White House spokesman Tony Snow: "The resolution is nonbinding. Soon, Congress will have the opportunity to show its support for the troops in Iraq by funding the request the president has submitted, and which our men and women in combat are counting on."
Maliki, under pressure to ease sectarian violence threatening to plunge Iraq into all-out civil war, renewed a pledge to Bush during a video conference that troops would hunt down militants regardless of their sect.
Bush afterward praised Maliki for making progress, but said the Iraqi government must follow through. "Our patience is not, is not, unlimited," Bush said.
Baghdad violence has declined as thousands of US and Iraqi forces flow into the city, but the dip is likely temporary while insurgents assess the situation, said Army Maj Gen Joseph Fil, commander of Multi-National Division Baghdad.
"We do expect there are going to be some very rough, difficult days ahead," Fil said in a videoconference with reporters.