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Senate rejects Democratic plan to pull forces from Iraq

WASHINGTON—A Democratic plan to pull most American combat forces out of Iraq by next March failed to pass the Senate Thursday, but a similar measure cleared a House committee and will go to the full House of Representatives for what's likely to be a close vote next week.

House and Senate Democrats are largely unified behind the argument that the United States shouldn't be in Baghdad trying to separate warring factions and support a Shiite-Muslim-dominated government. Democrats said they'll keep pressuring President Bush—and vulnerable Republican lawmakers up for re-election in 2008—to force a change in policy in Iraq.

In the Senate, the Democrats' resolution got 48 votes in favor and 50 against, with 60 needed for passage. It called for beginning to move some American forces out of Iraq in four months and set a target of getting all combat forces out by March 31, 2008, except for an unspecified residual force that would fight terrorists, protect other Americans and train Iraqis.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who supported the measure, estimated that about 40,000 U.S. troops would remain in Iraq, but the number would depend on military judgments and conditions in Iraq.

One Republican, Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, voted with Democrats in favor of the resolution. Two Democrats voted against it—Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., also voted against the resolution.

The House plan would remove most combat troops from Iraq by September 2008, or sooner if Iraq fails to reduce sectarian violence. That measure is part of a $124 billion spending bill that would provide funds Bush is seeking for Iraq. It also adds more money for Afghanistan and includes funding for the U.S. military and for hurricane recovery.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 36-28 for the plan. The only Democrat voting against it was Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who wants all American forces out of Iraq by the end of this year.

The House bill would require that the Pentagon abide by its standards of sending into combat only troops who are rested, trained and equipped. Yet it also would allow Bush to waive those standards as long as he explains why. It also would add $1.7 billion for military health care, $1.7 billion for veterans health care and $2.5 billion to improve the readiness of military forces still in the United States.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he hadn't yet decided whether to support attaching similar conditions to the Senate version of the spending bill.

Senate Republicans argued against the Democrats' resolution, saying that supporting the Iraqi government was part of the fight against terrorism and that setting a date for withdrawal would help the insurgents who are fighting American forces.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said terrorists would see a U.S. redeployment as a sign of weakness and that extremists would overwhelm moderates in Iraq.

"Iraq is a test of us and our will versus their will," he said. "The decision we make in Iraq will shape our national security interests for decades, will change the Mideast for better or worse and will have monumental consequences in the war on terror."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the United States should pressure the Iraqi government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to find a political settlement to end the violence. But like Graham, he argued that setting a date for withdrawal would help the enemy. Vitter also said that the resolution would give Congress power to make war decisions that should belong only to the president.

Democrats argued that Iraq's government was weak, sectarian and unlikely to become a true democracy for decades. They also said that there was no longer a military solution for Iraq's civil war and that political reconciliation was the only way to end it.

"We do not need another 3,000 young lives lost to learn that," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

"Our young men and our young women now find themselves in the crossfire of a civil war. Nearly everyone except our commander in chief realizes there is no military solution. And to continue this ill-advised and demoralizing war only damages our wonderful country in the eyes of the world and chews up lives, both American and Iraqi," Byrd said. "Democracy cannot be force fed from the point of a gun."

Freshman Democrat Jon Tester of Montana said, "We cannot afford this war monetarily or from a people standpoint.

"We have taken our eye off the war on terror. Osama bin Laden still runs free. We don't know where he's at."


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.