Tuesday, May 15, 2007

U.S. Senate Democrats want Iraq war deadline: Reid

U.S. Senate Democrats want Iraq war deadline: Reid
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats want to spell out a time frame to withdraw combat troops from Iraq, but might offer President George W. Bush power to waive the deadlines, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday.

"We've not, on this side of aisle, lost sight of the fact the American people have concluded the president's Iraq policy has failed and we're demanding a new way forward," said Reid, of Nevada, who a few weeks ago concluded the Iraq war was "lost."

In an attempt to again gauge Senate sentiment for placing end-dates for U.S. involvement in a war now in its fifth year, Reid has attached two Iraq amendments to an unrelated water resources bill the Senate is debating.

One would wind down U.S. involvement early next year by prohibiting combat funds after March 31. The other would call for troop withdrawals to begin this year and set a goal of finishing by March 31 next year. But Bush could waive the dates, Reid said.

Reid added that he and fellow Democrats were prepared to pass a bill to fund the Iraq war that is "very, very close" to a bill Congress sent Bush last month, which he vetoed.

The White House restated its opposition to a bill that includes timelines for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, saying it sends the wrong message to the troops, as well as allies and enemy forces.

"A timeline for when we hope to leave the battlefield is not the message we should be sending to any of these audiences. The bottom line is that a date for retreat is a date for retreat, and the president opposes such provisions," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.


On May 1, Bush rejected a $124 billion funding bill, mainly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that would have required U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin no later than October 1. The vetoed measure also set a nonbinding goal of March 31 for removing all combat troops.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a different bill Bush has promised to veto. It would provide only enough money for the military to fight in Iraq for the next two or three months. A second batch of funds would be voted upon in late July to decide whether the additional money would be spent on more combat or on withdrawing troops.

In the meantime, the House wants Bush to submit reports to Congress on the war's progress and the Iraq's government's ability to stabilize the country.

Reid told reporters he was still talking to White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten in hopes of reaching a compromise on Iraq war funds, which by various estimates could run out in the next two to six weeks.

With more Republicans in Congress starting to question his Iraq policy, Bush has embraced the idea of including in the war spending bill a list of "benchmarks" for measuring Iraq's progress in stabilizing a country that has suffered from relentless violence since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

But the president has not said he would accept a bill with consequences, such as troop withdrawals, if progress lags.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, gave her fellow liberals a full House vote on ending the war by early next year, knowing it would be defeated. But supporters said the 171 votes in favor showed congressional sentiment is turning against the war.

No matter how the two Senate votes go, the chamber still would have to pass a separate war-funding bill, probably this week. After passage, the House and Senate would have to work out a compromise bill to send to Bush and hope he signs it.