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by Jim Lobe

House Votes to Frown on Bush Iraq Plans

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- After several weeks of internal wrangling, the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives Thursday proposed legislation that, if enacted, would require all U.S. combat troops in Iraq to be withdrawn by Oct. 1, 2008.

The measure, which will take the form of an amendment to a pending $100 billion supplemental defense appropriations bill, also requires Bush to begin such a withdrawal as early as July of this year unless he certifies that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is making progress toward achieving national reconciliation and ending sectarian violence there.

The proposed amendment, the first concrete effort to set a specific timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, faces an uncertain future. With all but a handful of Republican lawmakers likely to oppose it, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to rally her party's right- and left-wing factions in order to ensure its passage.

Several leading Democrats in the U.S. Senate also introduced a joint resolution Thursday that contains binding language directing the president to begin the phased redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq within 120 days with a goal of redeploying all combat forces by Mar. 31, 2008 -- although Senate Republicans have twice blocked the Senate from even debating the administration's policies in Iraq.

The Democratic Party's "Progressive Caucus," which currently makes up about one-fifth of House Democrats, released its own proposed amendment Thursday. It called for a complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq no later than by the end of this year.

"We are a caucus and we will come together and find our common ground," said Pelosi when asked about prospects for maintaining unity among Democrats. "I believe in the end we will be unified," she added.

Even if she succeeds, however, the proposed amendment would still have to be reconciled with any version of the supplemental appropriations bill approved by the Senate, whose leadership is still hashing out its terms, and overcome a likely veto by Bush who has rejected any proposal, including one by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG), to set a timetable or deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Indeed, the House Minority Leader, Rep. John Boehner, immediately attacked the proposed amendment, insisting that it would compromise all chances for success in Iraq by "establishing and telegraphing to our enemy a timetable" for withdrawal. Echoing the White House, he added that the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, "should be the one making the decisions on what happens on the ground..."

The proposed amendment was finally agreed nearly three weeks after 17 Republicans joined all but two Democrats in the House to approve a non-binding resolution that formally disapproved of Bush's decision to add some 29,000 troops to the 140,000-troop force that is currently deployed in Iraq.

Having gone on record as opposed to the latest escalation -- or "surge" -- in Washington's intervention, however, Democrats have found it much more difficult to agree on whether, and how, to put real teeth into their policy views by passing binding legislation that would force Bush to comply with their wishes.

While its "Out-of-Iraq Caucus," which constitutes about one-third of House Democrats, argued that the results of last November's elections gave the party a mandate to force a swift withdrawal, the party's leadership worried that such a move would alienate its more-conservative members, the so-called "Blue-Dog Democrats."

The Blue Dogs, who hail from districts -- particularly in the South, the Southwest and Midwestern states -- that normally vote Republican, are considered particularly vulnerable to administration attacks that they are "soft on defense" or not providing adequate support to soldiers in the field.

They balked, in particular, at a proposal by Rep. John Murtha, the powerful and normally hawkish chairman of the subcommittee on defense appropriations whose outspoken opposition to the war has been spurred by concern that U.S. land forces have become dangerously over-stretched, to include specific readiness and training requirements for troops deployed to Iraq that would have made Bush's "surge" plan impossible to carry out.

The bill to which the amendment is to be attached is Bush's request for nearly $100 billion to continue to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of fiscal 2007, next Sept. 30.

Because the more than $60 billion already appropriated for 2007 is fast running out -- war-related costs in both countries are running at some $12 billion a month -- the supplemental bill has been given a high priority in the legislative calendar. Pelosi said she hoped it would clear the Appropriations Committee next week so that a floor vote could take place by the end of the month.

The amendment would actually add four billion dollars to Bush's original request, including one billion dollars for U.S. operations in Afghanistan where both lawmakers and the administration appear increasingly concerned about a resurgence of the Taliban.

The proposed amendment also attempts to incorporate some of the key recommendations of the ISG, which was co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton.

The ISG, which released its report in early December, had called for all combat forces to be redeployed from Iraq by Mar. 31, 2008; the Democratic amendment puts that deadline off for an additional six months.

The ISG had also called for Washington to reduce its aid to Iraq if the Maliki government failed to demonstrate real progress in achieving national reconciliation.

Under the Democrats' proposal, Baghdad's failure to make progress on achieving certain "political benchmarks," such as the enactment of laws that would ensure equitable regional distribution of Iraq's oil revenues and the adoption of amendments to the constitution designed to boost the voice of the Sunni population, which largely boycotted elections to the country's constituent assembly. If Bush fails to certify that such progress is being made by Jul. 1, 2007 and again by Oct. 1, 2007, he must withdraw all U.S. combat forces over the following six months.

The amendment also explicitly prohibits the establishment of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, which was another major recommendation by the ISG and also forbids "the initiation of offensive military actions against Iran, except when such operations are authorized by (Congress)..."

It also imposes, as Murtha first proposed, a number of requirements regarding the readiness, training, and rotation of U.S. forces deployed to Iraq, but permits Bush to "waive" them under certain circumstances.

The amendment disappointed some anti-war activists who have rallied behind the ISG's withdrawal timetable or an even shorter period, coupled with an intensified negotiations process both within Iraq and among its neighbors, as also called for by the ISG.

"Congress has failed to realise the message of the Baker-Hamilton report, that only a political process is going to solve the problem," said Joe Volk, director of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. "You can't keep voting billions and billions of dollars in additional funds for the same failed policy when you know that it has failed."

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Albion Monitor   March 8, 2007   (

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