Top Senate Democrats, who last week voted against a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, yesterday introduced a measure to start a phased troop redeployment by the end of the year.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said Iraqis must stop looking at the United States as a "security blanket" with an open-ended commitment of support.
"The administration's policy that we'll be there as long as Iraq needs us will result in Iraq depending upon us longer," Mr. Levin said before introducing the amendment to the defense authorization bill being considered this week. "Three and a half years into the conflict, we should tell the Iraqis that the American security blanket is not permanent."
Mr. Levin said phased redeployment -- not a timetable -- would encourage the Iraqi leaders to make "hard compromises" and secure their country.
Under the amendment, a phased redeployment of U.S. troops would begin by Dec. 31, when the Bush administration would be required to submit a plan for continued redeployment beyond 2006.
The co-sponsors are Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Dianne Feinstein of California and Ken Salazar of Colorado.
Republicans seized on the proposal as "cutting and running."
"Retreat is not an option," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. "Those calling for an early withdrawal of American troops from Iraq utterly fail to understand the potentially catastrophic implications of their proposal."
A White House official last night dismissed the amendment, saying it calls for an arbitrary timeline that will encourage terrorists to wait for the United States to leave. "The choice is to stay and win or to allow Iraq to come become a safe haven for terrorists to plot against the United States," the official said.
Mr. Reed accused Republicans of using Iraq as a political football.
"Instead of offering a blueprint for success, the Bush administration has used the Iraq debate to attack Democrats for wanting to cut and run," he said.
Mr. Reed said redeployment should begin "as quickly as possible" to ease the strain on the troops, but added that the measure does not establish a pace.
The measure has Democratic support from Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
Mrs. Clinton said the amendment would send the Iraqi government a message that the U.S. commitment is not indefinite and that Iraq must be responsible for its own security, a Clinton staffer said.
None of the amendment's announced sponsors or supporters backed a withdrawal measure Thursday that failed on a 93-6 vote.
Three Democrats who did vote for withdrawal, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer of California and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, today will submit a competing amendment to redeploy troops by July 1, 2007.
"We must redeploy to succeed," Mr. Kerry and Mr. Feingold said in a joint statement, calling a prolonged U.S. stay a "crutch" for Iraqis.
"A deadline gives Iraqis the best chance for stability and self-government, and most importantly, it allows us to begin refocusing on the true threats that face our country," they said.
Both amendments would leave in place military units with a limited mission of training and logistical support of Iraqi security forces, counterterrorist work and personnel protection.
The Levin amendment expresses a "sense of the Senate," but the Kerry measure would be binding.
The House on Friday passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting an "arbitrary" date for troop withdrawal by a 256-153 vote.