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Democratic bill offers timeline on Iraq pullout

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- House Democratic leaders unveiled legislation yesterday to start withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq as soon as July 1 and conclude their removal no later than August of next year.

Troops could remain, but they would be restricted to engaging in counterterrorism activities, training Iraqi troops and protecting Iraq's borders. Maintaining order in Baghdad and other cities embroiled in sectarian violence would be off-limits.

As long as U.S. troops are present, the Democratic bill would provide President Bush with the funds he seeks to equip them. It would also beef up spending for the care of wounded soldiers and veterans.

The bill provides "a timeline for bringing U.S. participation in Iraq's civil war to an orderly close," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat. Obey said he hoped that his committee could complete work on the legislation next week, and that the full House could pass the bill the following week.

It will be an uphill struggle.

The Democrats, who regained control of the House this year after 12 years in the minority, can count on little Republican support.

"Democrats are using a critical funding bill to micromanage the war on terror, undermine our generals on the ground and slowly choke off resources for our troops," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican. "Under the guise of supporting our troops, Democrats are actually mandating their failure."

Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois, an influential Republican, predicted that Bush would veto the Democratic measure. "This is a very, very huge mistake," he said.

The few remaining liberal Republicans in the House reacted more favorably. "They are going down the right road," said Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut.

"They need to include us in the dialogue," Shays said. "We got into Iraq on a bipartisan basis. We should leave Iraq on a bipartisan basis."

And Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida, the top Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee, said he opposed efforts "to manage the battlefield from the floor of Congress" but did not commit himself to voting against the Democrats' approach.

His uncertainty reflected the dilemma faced by all Republicans: to vote for a bill criticized for tying the hands of the commander in chief in wartime, or to vote against a bill that provides the troops in Iraq with needed equipment.

Even conservative Democrats in the Blue Dog caucus reacted favorably to their leaders' proposal. Rep. Patrick J. Murphy of Pennsylvania praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California for keeping the Democrats united on this delicate issue.

A group of liberal House Democrats put forward a bill yesterday, one that would bring all the troops home by the end of this year. But if these Democrats had to choose between the leadership's plan and no troop withdrawal at all, there was little doubt which way they would lean.

The leadership's legislation reflects two competing forces: the desire to end the war and the fear of appearing to be undermining the U.S. servicemen and women on the ground in Iraq.

At the same time that it would withdraw U.S. troops from combat roles in Iraq, the leadership bill would beef up the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan, not Iraq, said Pelosi, that gave sanctuary to the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Obey said the leadership bill would ensure that the United States was "fighting the right war in the right place against the people who attacked us and gave al-Qaida sanctuary." Under the complicated timeline in the leadership bill, two dates would be key.

By July 1 Bush must certify that the Iraqi government is making progress toward two goals: training its army to take charge of the struggle against sectarian violence and passing civil laws such as one governing the operation of the Iraqi oil fields and the distribution of the profits. If Bush could not certify, the U.S. troop drawdown would begin immediately and conclude by the end of the year.

If he could certify, he would face another deadline: Oct. 1.

That's when Bush would have to certify that the Iraqi government had reached its two goals. If he could not, the troop drawdown would begin immediately and be finished by the end of March 2008. Even if he could certify, the withdrawal would begin next year on March 1 and end by Aug. 31.

The bill, as the Democratic alternative to Bush's request of $100 billion to prosecute the war through Sept. 30, would use the savings from the troop drawdown for a variety of related purposes. There would be an extra $3.5 billion for medical care for wounded soldiers, $3.1 billion for military base realignments and closures and $1.4 billion for military housing.

It would limit soldiers' tours of duty in Iraq and guarantee them minimum lengths of time at home before returning to Iraq. Unrelated to the war, it would provide extra funds for Hurricane Katrina cleanup, the state health insurance program, the low-income home energy assistance program, wildfire suppression and disaster assistance for farmers.

Noam N. Levey and Joel Havemann write for the Los Angeles Times.

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