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GOP works to defeat measure calling for Iraq withdrawal

WASHINGTON—Senate Republicans will buckle down Thursday to try to prevent passage of a Democratic resolution that calls for getting most American forces out of Iraq by March 2008.

Republicans argued Wednesday against the plan, saying that American forces would be needed until Iraq has a strong central and democratic government. Democrats called that an impossible goal. They said American forces should not be getting into the middle of a civil war and effectively taking sides with one sect—the Shiites, who dominate the government.

"Mr. President, you're leading us off a cliff. Stop!" said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

The fate of the Democrats' resolution remains uncertain because the Senate is so closely divided. A vote may come Thursday.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, in the past used Senate procedures to block debate on Iraq, but let it go forward this week. He said the Democrats' resolution should be defeated because "its passage would be absolutely fatal to our mission in Iraq."

Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that Republicans would be ignoring the views of their constituents if they backed the president's troop build-up. Most Americans oppose the war and give Bush low job-approval scores.

"Senate Republicans have a choice to make: At the end of this debate they will vote to either keep our troops mired in an open-ended civil war or they can vote with the American people in an effort to force President Bush to change course," Reid said.

The Democrats' plan calls for Bush to start redeployment of U.S. forces in four months. It sets a goal—not a deadline, Democrats said—of getting all American soldiers and Marines out of the country by March 31, 2008, except those needed for force protection, training Iraqi troops or fighting terrorists. It also calls for the Bush administration to use diplomacy involving European and Muslim nations to pressure the Iraqi government to end sectarian violence.

The Bush administration threatened Wednesday to veto the resolution if it passes Congress, arguing in a statement that the measure "infringes upon the constitutional authority of the president as commander in chief by imposing an artificial timeline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq." The statement repeated the administration's goal in Iraq—achieving "a unified federal democratic Iraq that can govern, defend, and sustain itself and be an ally in the war on terror."

Biden said that goal was "not possible—mark my words." Democrats have a more modest goal, he said: "To leave Iraq relatively stable, within its own borders (and) not a haven for terror."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Iraqi government needs political, economic and military reinforcement. He said the Democrats' redeployment plan would undermine the American commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and would be read by enemies as a sign of weakness.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the president's plan to increase troops by more than 21,500 in Iraq was no guarantee of success but was the best chance to avoid "a failed state, a haven for terrorists, a humanitarian disaster"—a much worse outcome, he added, than Vietnam.

McCain argued that only the president had the right to decide what missions American troops will undertake. Biden disagreed. He told reporters that the Constitution gives Congress the authority to redefine the mission.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who supports the administration on Iraq, said that Petraeus would know by summer if the Bush plan was working. "If we're not making progress we're going to have to go to a policy of containment," Roberts said.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the Appropriations Committee is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would provide nearly $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would require most combat troops to return from Iraq by September 2008, or earlier if Iraq's government fails to meet certain benchmarks.

If that measure passes the committee as expected, it would go to the House floor for debate late next week. It's not clear if Democrats have rounded up the votes they need to pass it, but party leaders continue to press their members to get aboard.


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.