Senate Democrats set Iraq deadline in war spending bill

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats have drafted a $121.5 billion war spending bill that would direct President Bush to begin bringing home troops from Iraq with the goal of ending U.S. combat missions there in just over a year.

The provision is similar to a resolution the Senate narrowly rejected last week. It failed on a 50-48 vote, falling 12 votes shy of the 60 needed to pass, after President Bush vowed to veto the legislation.

”United States troops should not be policing a civil war, and the current conflict in Iraq requires principally a political solution,” states a copy of the draft bill, obtained by The Associated Press. Like the bill the Senate defeated, it would set a nonbinding goal of pulling out combat troops by March 31, 2008.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., released details to panel members Wednesday in anticipation of a committee vote on the bill on Thursday.

Republicans and even some Democrats are expected to bristle at the inclusion of the Iraq policy provision. The measure would require Bush to begin removing U.S. combat troops within four months of the bill’s passage.

The House is expected to vote Thursday on a similar $124 billion spending bill that would finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House bill, which Bush also threatened to veto, would demand that combat troops be out of Iraq before September 2008, possibly sooner.

Many Republicans say they oppose setting hard-and-fast deadlines to end the war because it would tie the hands of military commanders and embolden insurgents to ramp up attacks once U.S. troops are gone.

But some Republicans might have a tough time turning the proposal down because it is attached to a bill that provides much-needed funding for troops in combat, assistance for fishers and farmers, hurricane reconstruction and other popular spending projects.

Byrd’s bill would leave an unspecified number of troops behind in Iraq for anti-terrorism missions, to train Iraqi forces and to protect coalition infrastructure and personnel. Of the more than 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, fewer than half are combat forces.

The Senate proposal also would urge the Iraqi government to meet certain benchmarks, such as disarming militias and amending the constitution to protect Sunni minorities.

It would set no consequences if the Iraqis fail to achieve those goals. Under the House bill, combat troops would have to begin coming home as early as this fall if the president cannot certify that the Iraqi government was making progress.

The Senate measure requires the U.S. commander in Iraq to submit regular reports on progress made by the Iraqi government toward meeting those goals; the president would have to report on progress made in redeploying troops.

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