Bush-Senate showdown over Iraq

At the White House, the president immediately promised a veto.

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The 51-46 vote was largely along party lines, and like House passage of the same bill a day earlier, fell far short of the two-thirds margin needed to overturn the president's threatened veto.

Nevertheless, the legislation is the first binding challenge on the war that Democrats have managed to send to President Bush since they reclaimed control of both houses of Congress in January.

The $US124.2 billion ($A149 billion) bill requires troop withdrawals to begin October 1, or sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet certain benchmarks.

The House passed the measure yesterday by a 218-208 vote.

At the defence department, the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told reporters the war effort likely will "get harder before it gets easier".

Republicans said the vote amounted to little more than political theatre because the bill would be dead on arrival after reaching the White House.

Mr Bush said he will veto the bill so long as it contains a timetable on Iraq, as well as $US20 billion ($A23.97 billion) in spending added by Democrats.

"The solution is simple: Take out the surrender date, take out the pork, and get the funds to our troops," said Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Democrats said the bill was on track to arrive on the president's desk by Tuesday, the anniversary of Mr Bush's announcement aboard the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.

"The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001, and still goes on," Bush said on May 1, 2003, in front of a huge "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Mr Bush has since has acknowledged that the war has not progressed as he had hoped. After the November elections in which Democrats swept up enough seats to take the majority, he announced a new strategy that involved sending additional forces to Iraq.

White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said earlier that if Democratic MPs timed the sending of the bill to the anniversary of Mr Bush's speech, it would be a ridiculous public relations stunt.

"That is the height of cynicism, and absolutely so unfortunate for the men and women in uniform and their families who are watching the debate," she said today.

As Democrats pushed through the bill, Petraeus depicted the situation in Iraq as "exceedingly complex and very tough". He said there have been some improvements in the two months since President Bush's troop build-up began, but "there is vastly more work to be done across the board. … We are just getting started with the new effort".

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