WASHINGTON - In a direct challenge to US President Bush, House Democrats are
advancing legislation requiring the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq by
the fall of next year.
Democratic officials who
described the measure said the timetable would be accelerated - to the end of
2007 - if the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki does not meet goals
for providing Iraq's security.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, flanked by Sen.
Richard Durbin, D-Ill., left, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of
Md., speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Wednesday,
March 7, 2007. [AP]
The conditions, described as tentative until presented to the Democratic rank
and file Thursday, would be added to legislation providing nearly $100 billion
the Bush administration has requested for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The officials who described the measure did so on condition of anonymity,
saying they were not authorized to speak until after it was presented to the
Democratic caucus. They also stressed the provisions were tentative until then.
Underscoring the debate among Democrats, several opponents of the war issued
a statement late Wednesday saying they "have had a constructive dialogue with
members of our party's leadership. ... However, at this time, we have not
reached any final agreement."
The statement was issued in the name of Reps. Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee and
Diane Watson of California; Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York; Rep. Lloyd Doggett of
Texas and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.
Even so, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office announced plans for a Thursday
news conference to unveil the measure, providing no details. The announcement
said she would be joined by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and other key lawmakers.
Murtha is chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Pentagon's
budget and is among the House's most outspoken opponents of the war.
Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus said insurgents in Iraq have sought to
intensify attacks during a Baghdad security crackdown, which he predicted should
not be at full strength until June. Petraeus, the new commander of US forces of
Iraq, said Thursday that the backlash has come since US and Iraqi forces began
the security sweep three weeks ago. The Pentagon has pledged 17,500 combat
troops to the capital.
Petraeus also said additional US forces should head to the Diyala province
northeast of Baghdad, but declined to give specifics. Military officials believe
many insurgents have shifted from Baghdad to Diyala to escape the security
Pelosi and the leadership have struggled in recent days to come up with an
approach on the war that would satisfy liberals reluctant to vote for continued
funding without driving away more moderate Democrats unwilling to be seen as
tying the hands of military commanders.
The decision to impose conditions on the war risks a major confrontation with
the Bush administration and its Republican allies in Congress.
But without a unified party, the Democratic leadership faced the possibility
of a highly embarrassing defeat when the spending legislation reaches a vote,
likely later this month.
To make the overall measure more attractive politically, Democrats also
intend to add money to Bush's request for military operations in Afghanistan,
where the Taliban is expected to mount a spring offensive.
The bill also will exceed Bush's request for veterans' health care and
medical programs for active duty troops at facilities such as the
scandal-scarred Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
Democrats also are including funds for a health care program for low-income
children. The program is popular among governors of both political parties, but
the Bush administration has not signaled its acquiescence to the additional
The Democrats worked on their legislation as Defense Secretary Robert Gates
announced approval of an extra 2,200 military police to help deal with an
anticipated increase in detainees during the new Baghdad security crackdown.
The New York Times reported on its Web site Wednesday night that the
day-to-day commander of US troops in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, has
recommended that the higher troop level be maintained until February 2008 to
support a sustained effort to win over the Iraqi populace.
Democrats familiar with the emerging legislation in the House said the bill
would require Bush to certify whether the Iraqi government was making progress
toward providing for his country's security, allocating its oil revenues and
creating a fair system for amending its constitution.
They said if Bush certified the Iraqis were meeting these so-called
benchmarks, US combat troops could remain until September of next year.
Otherwise, the deadline would move up to the end of 2007.
The legislation also calls for the Pentagon to adhere to its existing
standards for equipping and training US troops sent overseas and for providing
time at home between tours of combat.
Yet it also permits Bush to issue waivers of these standards. Democrats
described the waiver provision as an attempt to embarrass the president into
adhering to the standards. But they concede the overall effect will be to permit
the administration to proceed with plans to deploy five additional combat
brigades to the Baghdad area over the next few months.
The measure emerged from days of private talks among Democrats following the
collapse of Murtha's original proposal, which would have required the Pentagon
to meet readiness and training standards without the possibility of a waiver.
Murtha said its implementation would have starved the war effort of troops
because the Pentagon would not be able to find enough fully rested, trained and
equipped units to meet its needs.
Several moderate Democrats spoke out against it, though. And Republicans
sharply attacked it as the abandonment of troops already in the war zone.