Monday, June 19, 2006

Senate Democrats want vote on Iraq withdrawal

Senate Democrats want vote on Iraq withdrawal
By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats plan to offer a resolution in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday seeking a timetable for a phased withdrawal from Iraq, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said on Sunday.

Recent polls show a slight majority of Americans favor such a course but White House spokesman Tony Snow said President George W. Bush would not consider it.

Setting a timetable "would be an absolute, unmitigated disaster, not merely for the people of Iraq, but the larger war on terror," Snow said on CNN's "Late Edition."

The House of Representatives last week approved a nonbinding resolution which rejected a deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq and called the conflict there part of the broader war on terrorism.

"Three years and three months and a bogging down, I think, suggests that the time has come for some discussion on where we go from here," Feinstein said, also interviewed on CNN.

"I don't know why we are so afraid to stand up and say, 'look, we want to see an end to this thing'," she said.

Feinstein argued an open-ended deployment was unsustainable for the U.S. military, which needed to be free to deal with growing problems in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

There are approximately 129,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and the military death toll since the 2003 invasion reached 2,500 last week. Administration officials have said they would like to withdraw some troops before November's election if conditions on the ground permit it. That could ease pressure on Republicans in their battle to retain control of Congress.

But Bush has repeatedly and adamantly refused to set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces.

As the U.S.-trained Iraqi army becomes more capable, "obviously, the Americans are going to move back into support roles," Snow said. "And at some point, we are going to be able to leave Iraq."

Bush's popularity has steadily fallen as the war has dragged on. However, the recent killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, and the formation of an Iraqi unity government, boosted the administration.

Last week the Senate voted 93-6 to put aside an amendment from Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential candidate, to withdraw U.S. forces by the end of this year.

Kerry was angry that Republicans put to a vote his amendment, which was still being crafted and would work with colleagues this week on his amendment plans, said his spokeswoman, April Boyd.

"John Kerry has been calling for a clear deadline for withdrawal and will not take the heat off the Iraqi leaders to do their job and stand up for their own country," she said.

The Iraqis are also anxious for the American forces to leave but not prematurely. "The debate that we watched recently in Congress demonstrated that the legislature, also, is mindful of the dangers of setting a fixed timetable for an early or premature withdrawal," Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on CNN.

(Additional reporting by Nancy Waitz in Washington.)