House OKs Iraq troop withdrawal bill
- The deadline for the "nonbinding goal of completing
the troop pull out" is April Fool's Day!
House OKs Iraq troop withdrawal bill
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer 9 minutes
WASHINGTON - A sharply divided House brushed aside a
veto threat Wednesday and passed legislation that
would order President Bush to begin withdrawing troops
Iraq by Oct. 1.
The 218-208 vote came as the top U.S. commander in
Iraq told lawmakers the country remained gripped by
violence but was showing some signs of improvement.
Passage puts the bill on track to clear Congress by
week's end and arrive on the president's desk in
coming days as the first binding congressional
challenge to Bush's handling of the conflict now in
its fifth year.
"Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear
enemy and no clear strategy for success," said House
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (news, bio, voting
Republicans promised to stand squarely behind the
president in rejecting what they called a "surrender
date" handed to the enemy.
"Al-Qaida will view this as the day the House of
Representatives threw in the towel," said Rep. Jerry
Lewis (news, bio, voting record) of California,
ranking Republican on the House Appropriations
The $124.2 billion bill would fund the war, among
other things, but demand troop withdrawals begin on
Oct. 1 or sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet
certain benchmarks. The bill sets a nonbinding goal of
completing the troop pull out by April 1, 2008,
allowing for forces conducting certain noncombat
missions, such as attacking terrorist networks or
training Iraqi forces, to remain.
Two Republicans Reps. Wayne Gilchrest (news, bio,
voting record) of Maryland and Walter Jones (news,
bio, voting record) of North Carolina joined 216
Democrats in passing the bill. Voting no were 195
Republicans and 13 Democrats.
House and Senate appropriators agreed to the
legislation earlier this week. The Senate was expected
to clear the measure Thursday, sending it to the
While Bush was confident the bill would ultimately
fail because Democrats lacked the two-thirds majority
needed to override a veto, he kept up pressure on
lawmakers. On the same day as the House vote, the
president dispatched his Iraq commander, Gen. David
Petraeus, and other senior defense officials to
Capitol Hill to make his case: Additional forces
recently sent to Iraq are yielding mixed results and
the strategy needs more time to work.
Petraeus told reporters sectarian killings in Baghdad
were only a third of what they were in January, before
Bush began sending in additional U.S. forces. He added
that progress in the troubled western Anbar province
was "breathtaking," and that he thought Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki was "doing his best" at
leading the country.
But "the ability of al-Qaida to conduct horrific,
sensational attacks obviously has represented a
setback and is an area in which we're focusing
considerable attention," Petraeus said.
Petraeus said he would not touch on the "minefield of
discussions about various legislative proposals," but
he noted that the new strategy in Iraq was just
beginning. He said he planned to provide more details
in early September.
Petraeus briefed his findings to lawmakers in a
private room, where protesters outside chanted "Troops
home now!" Republicans and Democrats alike emerged to
say Petraeus had only confirmed their positions.
"This briefing reinforced our view that the solution
in Iraq is a political solution," Hoyer, D-Md., told
reporters. Also confirmed, he said, was "our belief
that we must hold the Iraqis accountable for achieving
Rep. John Boehner (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio,
the House Republican leader, said Petraeus
acknowledged there were challenges. "But considering
where we are, I think the general feels good about the
progress thus far," Boehner said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reiterated Bush's
veto threat. In a statement issued after the vote,
Perino said the House passed "disappointing
legislation that insists on a surrender date,
handcuffs our generals and contains billions of
dollars in spending unrelated to the war."
Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa.,
said Democrats are still considering their next step.
He said after Bush's veto, one option would be funding
the war through September as Bush wants but setting
benchmarks that the Iraqi government must meet.
"I think everything that passes will have some sort of
condition (placed) on it," he said. Ultimately, Murtha
added, the 2008 military budget considered by Congress
in June "is where you'll see the real battle."
Petraeus' comments Wednesday put a finer point on when
the much-awaited decision about the length of the U.S.
troop buildup may come, saying he will make an
assessment of the conditions in Iraq in early
September, and report back to Defense Secretary Robert
Gates and other military leaders.
Gates has said he expects the assessment this summer,
but this is the first time military leaders said it
would not be until September.
The bill is H.R. 1591.