- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Democrat-controlled Congress yesterday moved to limit U.S. combat operations in Iraq immediately and withdraw troops as early as July, hardening its stance for a veto showdown with President Bush over war funding.

Congressional negotiators from both chambers agreed to the new language yesterday afternoon, hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Congress will no longer “turn a blind eye to the Bush administration’s incompetence and dishonesty.”

“Yes, he is the president, but we are the people’s representatives,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Instead of sending us back to square one with a veto, some tough talk and nothing more, let him come to the table in the spirit of bipartisanship that Americans demand and deserve.”

The bill passed the conference committee and heads to a final vote tomorrow in the House and Thursday in the Senate.

The president vows to veto any legislation that dictates war strategy, and the standoff with Congress threatens to stall $100 billion in funding for U.S. forces in Iraq even as the Pentagon raids other military accounts to pay for the war until July.

“Politicians in Washington shouldn’t be telling generals how to do their job,” Mr. Bush said after a briefing by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is conducting the troop surge now under way in Baghdad.

“An artificial timetable of withdrawal would say to an enemy, ‘just wait them out,’ ” the president said. “It would say to the Iraqis, ‘don’t do hard things necessary to achieve our objectives.’ And it would be discouraging for our troops.”

Mr. Reid outlined the new strategy in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, saying that “despite the president’s happy talk, no progress has been made.”

“Our first step: immediately transitions the U.S. mission away from policing a civil war to training and equipping Iraqi security forces, protecting U.S. forces and conducting targeted counterterror operations,” Mr. Reid said.

“U.S. troops should not be interjecting themselves between warring factions, kicking down doors, trying to sort Shia from Sunni or friend from foe.”

The Democratic strategy’s three-pronged focus as detailed by Mr. Reid would limit combat operations by rolling back security patrols by the U.S. military in sectarian hot spots and by barring participation in the systematic search for insurgents — tasks typically determined by commanders on the ground and Mr. Bush as the commander in chief.

The $124 billion bill mandates troops start withdrawing by July 1 and finish the pullout by January if the Iraqi government fails to meet benchmarks, including reducing sectarian violence, establishing a militia-disarmament program and enacting laws to share oil revenue.

At the latest, the pullout would start in October with the goal of most troops coming home by next April. The Iraqis also would lose half of U.S. foreign aid if they fail to meet the benchmarks, according to a draft of the bill.

The new timetables appeal to anti-war House Democrats by moving up the pullout to as early as July and calling for an immediate end of U.S. involvement in military combat. It also satisfies the party’s more conservative Senate members by retaining that chamber’s carefully worded language that sets a “goal” for pulling out troops rather than a deadline.

Mr. Reid detailed numerous setbacks in the war — including the number of U.S. casualties, millions of Iraqi refugees and untold thousands of Iraqi civilian dead — but avoided declaring defeat, as he did last week to stinging criticism.

“Winning the war is no longer the job of the American military,” Mr. Reid said. “Our courageous troops have done everything asked of them and more. … The failure has been political. It has been policy. It has been presidential.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Mr. Reid, who said in his speech that the president is in “a state of denial” about Iraq, is himself suffering from illusionary visions.

“He’s in denial about the conflict that we are in, how al Qaeda is inciting sectarian violence. He is in denial about the new Baghdad security plan and the new changes that we’ve implemented in al Anbar province. He’s also in denial that a surrender date he thinks is a good idea. It is not a good idea. It is defeat,” Mrs. Perino said.

Mr. Bush said he came away from Gen. Petraeus’ briefing cognizant that “it’s a tough time” in Iraq.

“There’s been some progress,” he said. “There’s been some horrific bombings, of course. There’s also a decline in sectarian violence.”

Gen. Petraeus, who wrote the U.S. military’s handbook on counterinsurgency tactics, will brief Congress tomorrow.

The war-funding bill also restricts spending to deploy U.S. troops to Iraq unless they are certified as fully mission capable, a military designation that forces cannot meet. Funding would be allowed only for one-year deployments for Army units and 210-day tours for Marine units.

However, the president could waive restrictions for readiness and tour lengths.

The $124 billion agreement includes more than $100 billion for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, $6.9 billion for Gulf Coast hurricane victims, $3.5 billion for farm disaster relief and $2.25 billion for homeland security. The conferees eliminated some of the pork-barrel spending in the bill, including subsidies for peanut farmers and spinach farmers.

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