Iraq pullout plan blocked

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- For the seventh time this year, Senate Republicans blocked a measure yesterday to change U.S. policy in Iraq, beating back the latest Democratic proposal to set a timeline for withdrawing troops.

Democrats fell eight votes short of the 60 votes demanded by Republican leaders for an amendment to the defense authorization bill being debated in the Senate.

Four Republican lawmakers joined Democrats, ending a round-the-clock session orchestrated by Democratic leaders Tuesday night to highlight what they alleged was Republican obstructionism.

The 52-47 vote to cut off debate on the proposal prompted more angry accusations from Senate Democrats, who said their Republican colleagues were resisting the will of the American people, who want to bring the troops home.

"End this filibuster," Majority Leader Harry Reid urged his Republican colleagues. "Stop blocking a vote on this crucial war-ending amendment. ... We can make this the first day of ending the war."

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, pulled the defense authorization bill from the Senate floor after the vote, enraging Republicans.

The maneuver means that debate on the $649 billion measure - and other amendments calling for a change in Iraq - is on hold. Reid would not say when he would reintroduce the legislation.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky ridiculed the Democratic effort as Hollywood theatrics. A "political stunt," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican. "Petty kindergarten games."

The latest vote underscored the inability of Democratic lawmakers to persuade Republicans to join their legislative campaign to pressure President Bush to begin winding down U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

The four Republican votes - by Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, Oregon's Gordon H. Smith and Maine's Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins - were two more than Democrats mustered three months ago.

In April, the Senate passed a war-spending bill, 51-47, that set a nearly identical timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops. Bush vetoed the measure.

Several prominent Senate Republicans, including former Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner of Virginia and former Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, proposed a measure mandating that Bush develop a plan to redeploy forces at the beginning of next year.

Other Republicans lined up behind a plan to implement the general recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.

But Reid and other senior Democrats repeatedly have criticized the measures as too weak. And they stuck with their proposal to set dates for withdrawing U.S. forces, arguing that such legislation is the only way to force Bush to change his strategy.

The latest proposal - by Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan, who is the Armed Services Committee chairman, and Jack Reed of Rhode Island - would require a withdrawal to start within 120 days. It would require that all troops be out by April 30, except those engaged in limited missions such as protecting U.S. personnel, training Iraqis and targeting terrorist networks.

Levin, as he has for months, argued yesterday that such a timeline was the only way to pressure the Iraqi government to take steps to reduce sectarian violence.

Republican lawmakers, echoing the warnings Bush has been delivering all year, countered that such a withdrawal would only deepen the violence in Iraq and strengthen the hand of al-Qaida.

Noam N. Levey writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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