WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress on Thursday proposed withdrawing all American combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008, saying President George W. Bush’s war strategy had failed and that the United States must instead focus on a brewing storm in Afghanistan.
The proposal put Democrats, who took control of Congress in January, on a collision course with Bush, who does not want lawmakers meddling in how he wages a 4-year-old war that has seen escalating violence in Iraq and waning support at home. “Our troops are out by no later than August of 2008” under the legislation, House of representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters. That deadline is just three months before presidential elections.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled a proposal to begin withdrawing soldiers from Iraq within four months and it sets a goal of pulling all combat troops out by March 31, 2008.
Reid moved to start a debate on that measure next week but was thwarted, at least for now, by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, who said more time was needed to look at the Democrats’ ideas. “The president’s strategy in Iraq is not working and Congress must decide whether to follow his failed policies or whether to change course,” Reid told reporters.
The White House promptly warned that Bush would veto such legislation if it reached his desk. White House counselor Dan Bartlett, speaking to reporters traveling with Bush on his way to Brazil, called the House Democrats’ plan an “artificial precipitous withdrawal from Iraq.”
The House Democrats’ plan provides for U.S. combat troops to withdraw even sooner than August 2008 if the situation does not improve in Iraq. If Bush could not certify progress there, withdrawals would begin in July of this year and be complete by Dec. 31. But before Bush could wield his veto pen, Democrats in both chambers would have hurdles to overcome.
Pelosi must convince fellow liberals in the House — who would prefer a faster withdrawal — to back conditions on Iraq war funding that they think are too timid. She also must solidify support among conservative Democrats skittish about limiting the president’s powers to wage war.
The new conditions on the Iraq war would be attached to a huge emergency spending bill likely to be debated on the House floor later this month. A test vote could come as early as next week in the House Appropriations Committee.
Senate Democrats have only a 51-49 majority, and 60 votes are often required to pass controversial bills. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, acknowledged they will need Republican support for “true course change in Iraq.”
House Democratic leaders will try to build support for their measure by emphasizing that they would fully fund the U.S. troops already fighting in Iraq. They also will argue a need to put more resources, $1.2 billion more than Bush sought, into battling Taliban and al Qaeda forces regrouping in Afghanistan. “The proposal … will essentially redirect more of our resources to the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, fighting the right war in the right place against the people who attacked us,” said House appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat.
House Democrats are dropping other sweeteners into what could be a nearly $110 billion bill by giving $4.3 billion in new aid to farmers, many in conservative states, along with $2.9 billion to continue rebuilding southern states hit by hurricanes in 2005.
Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus, the new American commander in Iraq, would not rule out the possibility of needing even more troops, beyond the 21,500 combat soldiers Bush announced in January.