Friday, August 03, 2007

House votes for more leave for troops in Iraq

House votes for more leave for troops in Iraq
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to require more leave for U.S. troops in Iraq, defying a veto threat from the White House that said it infringed on President George W. Bush's authority as commander in chief.

The legislation, part of a stream of votes on the unpopular war, passed the Democratic-led House by 229-194. It was unclear if it would advance in the more closely divided Senate where a similar bill failed last month.

Supporters said overstretched U.S. forces were ground down by repeated redeployments in the 4 1/2-year Iraq war, often without adequate rest in between.

"We all know there are people on their third or fourth deployment" in a war that began in 2003, the bill's sponsor, California Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, said in a telephone interview with Reuters. "It's obvious they are not getting enough downtime."

U.S. soldiers were "deployed, depleted, desperate," said Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, one of six Republicans to vote for the bill.

The legislation requires that active-duty troops spend as much time at home as the length of their previous deployment before they could be sent back to Iraq. National Guard and Reserve troops could not be sent back without having been home at least three times the period of their previous deployment.

It contains an emergency waiver for the president. But critics said it would tie the hands of commanders and infringe on the president's constitutional authority -- including that of the next president, who will be elected next year.

Pointing out that Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama said this week the United States must be willing to strike at al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan, Michigan Republican Rep. Candice Miller asked: "How would this legislation affect his ability to do that?

"Could they immediately be deployed to Pakistan by a President Obama?"

She and other Republicans said the House action was pointless just weeks before a September update on the war from U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

Separately, an administration proposal for military aid packages worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states drew more skepticism.

Rep. Mike Ferguson, a New Jersey Republican, and other lawmakers said they had collected signatures from more than 100 colleagues in both parties vowing to stop the deal when it goes to Congress later this year.

The Pentagon on Thursday gave members of the Senate Armed Services Committee a closed-door briefing on contingency planning for troop withdrawals from Iraq.