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House Democrats unveil plan calling for U.S. troop pullout from Iraq by late 2008

House Democrats unveil plan calling for U.S. troop pullout from Iraq by late 2008

In a direct challenge to President George W. Bush, Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled legislation Thursday requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by late 2008. The White House said Bush would veto it.
The House leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the deadline would be added to legislation providing nearly $100 billion (euro76 billion) the Bush administration has requested for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She told reporters the measure would mark the first time the new Democratic-controlled Congress has established a "date certain" for the end of U.S. combat in the four-year-old war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,100 U.S. troops and many thousands of Iraqis.
Senior White House adviser Dan Bartlett, accompanying Bush on a flight to Latin America, told reporters, "It's safe to say it's a nonstarter for the president."
Within an hour of Pelosi's news conference, House Republican Leader John Boehner attacked the measure. He said Democrats were proposing legislation that amounted to "establishing and telegraphing to our enemy a timetable" that would result in failure of the U.S. military mission in Iraq.
"Gen. (David) Petraeus should be the one making the decisions on what happens on the ground in Iraq, not Nancy Pelosi or John Murtha," the Republican added. Murtha, a Democrat, has been heavily involved in crafting legislation designed to end U.S., participation in the war.
According to an explanation of the measure distributed by Democratic aides, the timetable for withdrawal would be accelerated if the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not meet goals for providing for Iraq's security.
Democrats won control of Congress last fall in midterm elections shadowed by public opposition to the war, and have vowed since taking power to challenge Bush's policies.
Pelosi made her announcement as Senate Democrats reviewed a different approach _ a measure that would set a goal of a troop withdrawal by March of 2008. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called a closed-door meeting of the rank-and-file to consider the measure.
In the House, Pelosi and the leadership have struggled in recent days to come up with an approach on the war that would satisfy liberals reluctant to vote for continued funding without driving away more moderate Democrats unwilling to be seen as tying the hands of military commanders.
The decision to impose conditions on the war risks a major confrontation with the Bush administration and its Republican allies in Congress.
But without a unified party, the Democratic leadership faced the possibility of a highly embarrassing defeat when the spending legislation reaches a vote, likely later this month. establishing a deadline for troop withdrawals.
Talking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Bartlett called it "a political compromise in the Democratic caucus of the House aimed at bringing comity to their internal politics, not reflective of the conditions on the ground in Iraq."
"It would unnecessarily handcuff our generals on the ground, he said. "Obviously, the administration would vehemently oppose and ultimately veto any legislation that looks like what was described today."
To make the overall measure more attractive politically, Democrats also intend to add $1.2 billion (euro910 million) to Bush's request for military operations in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is expected to mount a spring offensive.
The bill also would add $3.5 billion (euro2.6 billion) to Bush's request for veterans' health care and medical programs for active duty troops at facilities such as the scandal-scarred Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
As described by Democrats, the legislation will require Bush to certify by July 1 and again by Oct. 1. whether the Iraqi government is making progress toward providing for the country's security, allocating its oil revenues and creating a fair system for amending its constitution.
They said if Bush certified the Iraqis were meeting these so-called benchmarks, U.S. combat troops would have to begin withdrawing by March 1, 2008, and complete the redeployment by Sept. 1.
Otherwise, the deadlines would move up.
If Bush cannot make the required certification by July 1, troops must begin a six-month withdrawal immediately. If Bush cannot make the second certification, the same six-month timetable would apply.
The legislation also requires the Pentagon to adhere to its existing standards for equipping and training U.S. troops sent overseas and for providing time at home between tours of combat.
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Associated Press reporters Jim Abrams and Anne Flaherty contributed to this story.