- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

Members of Congress yesterday engaged in a bitter and sometimes raucous debate over Iraq war policy, with the Senate overwhelmingly rejecting a measure to bring troops home by year’s end, a move several Democrats have called for but did not back with their votes yesterday.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers traded barbs on whether the Iraq war is linked to terrorism during debate over a Republican-written resolution that rejects a timetable for withdrawal of troops and affirms a commitment to staying in Iraq until the nation is “sovereign, free, secure and united.”

The events came during an election year in which Democrats see a chance to regain control of each chamber, and as the United States marked a grim milestone of 2,500 troops killed since the war began in March 2003.

“We’ve done everything we can do militarily,” said Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the most vocal Democratic war opponent. “Only Iraqis can solve the problem in Iraq. I say it’s time to redeploy and be ready.”

“President Bush told us from the beginning that this road would not be easy,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert in a rare floor speech that opened the debate.

“The battle is not over,” the Illinois Republican said. “The alternative would be to cut and run and wait for them to group and regroup and bring the terror back to our shores.”

“Three and a half years is hardly cutting and running,” countered Rep. Diane Watson, California Democrat.

The House will vote today on the resolution, which also praises the troops and applauds the elimination of terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq.

In the Senate, Republicans attempted to embarrass Sen. John Kerry by forcing a vote on a measure identical to one he had drafted calling for troop withdrawal by the end of 2006. Senators opposed the measure on a 93-6 vote, which was forced to the Senate floor by Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Mr. Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran for president in 2004, said he is crafting the withdrawal proposal with other Democrats, and said he was frustrated at what he called political games by the Republicans. Mr. Kerry added he plans a “serious debate” on a measure “that bears my name.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said withdrawal would vindicate terrorists.

“This sent a good message that the United States Senate overwhelmingly opposes a cut-and-run strategy,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

Besides Mr. Kerry, the resolution was backed by five Democrats — Barbara Boxer of California, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

In the House, Republicans, armed with talking points from the leadership and the Pentagon, invoked September 11 and the bombing of the USS Cole.

“If some people continue to preach cut and run for this war then they will continue to kill Americans and kill Americans and kill Americans,” said Rep. Terry Everett, Alabama Republican. “I prefer doing it over in Iraq rather than in New York or Washington, D.C., or San Francisco.”

Mr. Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran, angrily responded: “I know what rhetoric is and I know what fighting in the front lines are. … You’re not talking about Iraq. I’m talking about Iraq.”

Republicans noted progress they have seen in Iraq, including establishment of the government, advancement of women’s rights and democratic voting.

“Iraq is a catalyst for hope, a vivid example that the future of the broader Middle East belongs to freedom and democracy,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.

Democrats said President Bush misled the country and lashed the administration for gaffes such as the torture of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison. Several called for the firing of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

“Our postwar mission as presently defined cannot succeed,” said Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence panel, who called for a “dramatic change of course.”

Mr. Murtha rattled off some grisly statistics, including the increase in the number of attacks in Iraq daily, the rise in the number of insurgents and the conflict’s $8 billion per month price tag.

Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, called the war “a blunder of historic proportions by this president.”

But Rep. Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee and the resolution’s sponsor, said lawmakers owe Mr. Bush “thanks, not condemnation.”

“To insist that decisions must await perfect intelligence … is to guarantee our defeat,” the Illinois Republican said, adding, “Defeat in this new and more dangerous world means annihilation.”

Democrats pointedly thanked and praised the troops before making their remarks.

But statements of support for the troops “ring hollow if we don’t also say we support their mission,” Mr. Hastert said.

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