US soldiers play with Iraqi children
during a patrol in Baghdad. US Democrats unveiled a double-pronged attack
on President George W. Bush over Iraq Thursday, demanding the withdrawal
of all US combat troops from the unpopular war as early as March 2008.
WASHINGTON - US House Democratic leaders vowed Thursday to pass legislation
setting a deadline of Sept. 1, 2008, for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops
from Iraq, a challenge to President Bush's war policy that drew a blunt veto
threat in return.
"It would unnecessarily handcuff our generals on the ground, and it's safe to
say it's a non-starter for the president," said White House spokesman Dan
Little more than two months after Democrats took control of the House and
Senate, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the bill would set "dates
certain for the first time in the Congress for the redeployment of our troops
out of Iraq."
Officials said the deadline would be accelerated - possibly to the end
of 2007 - if the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed
to meet commitments for taking over security operations, distributing oil
revenue and opening his nation's constitution to amendments.
Pelosi said Democrats would add their war-related provisions to the
administration's request for nearly $100 billion to pay for the fighting in Iraq
The plan is to bring the bill to a vote by the end of the month, making it
the first major test of the Democrats' power since they rode a wave of anti-war
voter sentiment to midterm election victories last fall.
Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats readied a less sweeping challenge to the
commander in chief.
Their version would set a target date of March 31, 2008, for the withdrawal
of combat troops - but no deadline. The measure says U.S. forces could stay
beyond that date only to protect U.S. personnel, train and equip Iraqi forces
and carry out counterterrorism operations. "We can't stay in Iraq forever," said
Sen. Harry Reid , D-Nev., the majority leader.
Reid has considerably less leeway than Pelosi, since Senate rules give
Republicans greater power than their counterparts have in the House.
Presidential politics also figure in his calculations. Illinois Sen. Barack
Obama, a candidate for the White House, told reporters the measure includes some
of the key provisions of a bill he introduced earlier this year setting a March
31, 2008, target for withdrawal. "It expresses the central insight that we can't
have our troops policing a civil war," he said.
Of the 141,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, roughly 60,000 are combat forces and the
rest are support troops.
Bartlett attacked the House measure in comments to reporters aboard Air Force
One as Bush flew to South America. "Obviously, the administration would
vehemently oppose and ultimately veto any legislation that looked like what was
described today," he said.
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, led the GOP
"General (David) Petraeus should be the one making the decisions on what
happens on the ground in Iraq, not Nancy Pelosi or John Murtha," Boehner added,
referring to the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been heavily involved in crafting
legislation designed to end U.S. participation in the war.