Congress imposes Iraq timeline

This is a victory for Democrats in an epic war-power struggle and Congress’s boldest challenge yet to the administration’s policy.

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Ignoring a White House veto threat, lawmakers voted 218-212, mostly along party lines, for a war spending bill requiring that combat operations cease before September next year, or earlier if the Iraqi government does not meet certain requirements.

Democrats said it was time to heed the mandate of their election sweep over the Republicans last November, which gave them control of Congress.

“The American people have lost faith in the president’s conduct of this war,” said the leader of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “The American people see the reality of the war, the president does not.”

The vote, echoing clashes between legislators and the White House over the Vietnam War four decades ago, pushed the Democratic-led Congress a step closer to a constitutional collision with the wartime commander-in-chief. Bush has insisted legislators allow more time for his strategy of sending nearly 30,000 additional troops to Iraq to work.

The roll call also marked a triumph for Pelosi, who laboured in recent days to bring together a Democratic caucus deeply divided over the war. Some of the party’s more liberal members voted against the bill because they said it would not end the war immediately, while more conservative Democrats said they were reluctant to take away flexibility from generals in the field.

Republicans were almost completely unified in their fight against the bill, which they said was tantamount to admitting failure in Iraq.

“The stakes in Iraq are too high and the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families too great to be content with anything but success,” said a Republican leader, Roy Blunt.

A budget to end the war

The bill marks the first time Congress has used its budget power to try to end the war, now in its fifth year, by attaching the withdrawal requirements to a bill providing $US124 billion ($A154 billion) to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of this year.

Excluding the funds in the House-passed bill, Congress has so far provided more than $US500 billion ($A621 billion) for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including about $US350 billion ($A435 billion) for Iraq alone, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. More than 3,200 US troops and more than 50,000 Iraqis have died in Iraq since war began in March 2003.

In the Senate, lawmakers planned to debate as early as Monday legislation that also calls for a troop withdrawal — and has also drawn a Bush veto threat.

That $US122-billion ($A152 billion) measure would require that George Bush begin bringing home an unspecified number of troops within four months, with the goal of getting all combat troops out by March 31 next year. Unlike the House bill’s 2008 date, the Senate deadline is not a firm requirement.

While today’s House vote represented Democrats’ latest ratcheting up of political pressure on Mr Bush, they still face long odds of ultimately being able to force a troop withdrawal.

In the Senate, Democratic leaders will need 60 votes to prevail — a tall order because they will need about a dozen Republicans to join them.

And, should lawmakers send President Bush a compromise House-Senate measure, both chambers would need two-thirds majorities to override him — margins that neither seems likely to be able to muster.

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