WASHINGTON—Congress will send a bill this week to President Bush that calls for the withdrawal of most American combat forces from Iraq beginning no later than Oct. 1, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday. The measure's non-binding goal will be to complete the pullout by April 1, 2008.
Bush insists he'll veto the bill, but Democrats say they'll keep up pressure for a new war strategy.
The bill being finalized this week will call for some American forces to remain in or near Iraq for targeted counterterrorism attacks and training Iraqi forces, international diplomacy to nudge Iraqi factions to negotiations, and a U.S. demand that the Iraqi government meet deadlines for progress on political reforms.
House of Representatives and Senate lawmakers met Monday evening to hammer out final differences between their two versions of the plan, which is attached to the president's request to provide about $100 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through September. The Democratic leadership already had worked out the main sticking points, Reid said hours before the meeting. Both chambers of Congress must pass the final version before it goes to the president.
Bush rejected demands for a troop withdrawal again on Monday.
"I believe strongly that politicians in Washington shouldn't be telling generals how to do their job," he told reporters at the start of an Oval Office meeting with his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. "An artificial timetable of withdrawal would say to an enemy, just wait them out; it would say to the Iraqis, don't do hard things necessary to achieve our objectives; and it would be discouraging for our troops."
The confrontation between the president and Congress intensified as Reid outlined the Democrats' final terms.
_Set benchmarks for the Iraqi government to develop its military forces and take actions to achieve national reconciliation. If Bush doesn't certify that the benchmarks are being met, U.S. troops would start to leave Iraq by July 1, with a goal of ending the withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2007. If the benchmarks are met, the withdrawal would begin Oct. 1.
_Restrict funding for some deployments, but give the president authority to waive the restrictions. Under these provisions, only troops the Pentagon calls "fully mission capable" could be deployed; Army, Reserve and National Guard units could not serve in Iraq for more than one year (seven months for Marines); and service members could not be redeployed to Iraq for one year (or seven months between deployments for Marines).
_Cut some foreign aid to Iraq if benchmarks aren't met.
In a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Reid, D-Nev., said Bush was in a "state of denial" when he said progress is being made. Bush and Petraeus say the troop buildup they've begun is showing promise. Reid denies that.
"Back in December, the Iraq Study Group said the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. Unfortunately, since then nothing has changed" and American combat deaths are increasing, Reid said.
"Many who voted for change in November anticipated dramatic and immediate results in January. But like it or not, George W. Bush is still the commander in chief, and this is his war," Reid said.
Reid said Democrats would make sure that troops in war zones had the funds needed to complete the missions they were given. If Bush vetoes the bill, Democratic leaders have said that Congress will pass legislation providing funds for the wars without withdrawal terms, because they dare not leave themselves open to political attack that they cut off funds to troops in danger.
The House and Senate in March approved separate versions of the war-spending bill, which provides the approximately $100 billion Bush requested. Both versions added about $20 billion in other spending, partly for military and veterans' health, homeland security and rebuilding the military. Extra funds also would go to health care for uninsured poor children and subsidies for peanut and spinach farmers.
Bush objects to the non-war spending.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.