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‘Empower’ Iraq, pull out troops, Kerry says

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Sen. John Kerry said yesterday that redeploying combat troops from Iraq by July 2007 is the best way to "empower" the fledgling nation, despite accusations from Republicans and Democrats that his plan for withdrawal is irresponsible.

The Massachusetts Democrat implored senators to support his plan to withdraw troops within 13 months, leaving in place counterterrorism units and those protecting U.S. facilities. But the plan, offered as an amendment to the defense authorization bill, is not expected to win the votes of even a dozen senators this morning.

"The American people have a right to expect that after four years, soldiers who have been trained over the course of those years are prepared to stand up for their country," he said. "Is this administration telling us that after four years we don't have Iraqis who are trained enough to drive trucks and perhaps be blown up by an [improvised explosive device] rather than an American soldier?"

Mr. Kerry said any U.S. soldier would be expected to be ready for deployment after training in a matter of months.

However, most Democrats are expected to vote today for a competing "sense of the Senate" measure that would support in nonbinding terms a phased redeployment, starting Dec. 31 but not specifying an end date.

Mr. Kerry criticized the amendment offered by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, saying, "Our troops and our country deserve more than a sense of the Senate; they deserve policy."

Some Democrats privately complained to reporters that Mr. Kerry and his bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, are jockeying for position in the 2008 presidential race and said the timetable is distracting in an election year in which Democrats are trying to take back the Senate. They said Mr. Kerry appears to be playing to anti-war liberals who were frustrated by his often stumbling position on Iraq during his 2004 presidential bid.

Republicans noted yesterday that Mr. Kerry last week wanted troops withdrawn by the end of the year and now has adjusted a pullout date by six months. That plan, called up before it was ready, was defeated 93-6.

Mr. Kerry negotiated with party leaders before introducing his amendment, but the competing measures have allowed Republicans to paint the minority party as deeply fractured over the Iraq war.

Still, Democrats tried to claim unity in blaming President Bush for failures in Iraq and calling for some redeployments. They said the differences between the two plans, neither of which will garner enough Republican votes to pass, are minute.

"Both make clear that Democrats are united in our belief that it's time to shift to the Iraqis the responsibility for their own future and begin to withdraw our troops from Iraq," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat who plans to vote for both measures.

Republicans are nearly united in opposition to both measures.

"It will be interesting to see the Democrats debate amongst themselves," said Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"We all wish this could end more quickly," he said. But, he added, "I don't think that the generals in the Senate are better than the generals in Iraq."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner said passing either measure would be a "historic mistake" that would slow the momentum seen in recent weeks in Iraq, including the elimination of terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.

"It is a timetable, no matter how many times people protest it is not," the Virginia Republican said. "We cannot accept that."

Mr. Warner predicted last night that all 55 of the chamber's Republicans would remain united in opposing both amendments.

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