- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senate Democrats are drafting legislation to limit the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq, effectively revoking the broad authority Congress granted President Bush in 2002, officials said yesterday.

Although these officials said the precise wording of the measure remains unsettled, one draft would restrict American troops in Iraq to combatting al Qaeda, training Iraqi army and police forces, maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity and otherwise proceeding with the withdrawal of combat forces. The officials, Democratic aides and others familiar with private discussions, spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying rank-and-file senators had not been briefed.

They said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada likely will present the proposal to fellow Democrats early next week for their consideration. The plan is to attempt to add the measure to counterterrorism legislation that is scheduled to be on the Senate floor next week and the subsequent week.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, declined to discuss the deliberations, saying only, “No final decisions have been made on how to proceed.”

Any attempt to limit Mr. Bush’s powers as commander in chief likely would face strong opposition from Republican allies of the administration in the Senate. It also would face a veto threat.

Earlier efforts to pass a nonbinding measure critical of Mr. Bush’s decision to deploy 21,500 additional troops ended in gridlock.

The emerging Senate plan differs markedly from an approach favored by critics of the war in the House, where a nonbinding measure passed last week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has said she expects the next challenge to Mr. Bush’s war policies to be in the form of legislation requiring the Pentagon to adhere to strict training and readiness standards in the case of troops ticketed for the war zone.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and the leading advocate of that approach, has said it would effectively prevent the troop “surge” and eventually make U.S. military involvement in Iraq impossible.

Some Senate Democrats have been critical of that approach privately, saying it would have virtually no chance of passing and could backfire easily in the face of Republican arguments that it would deny reinforcements to troops already in the war zone.

Several Senate Democrats have called in recent days for revoking the original authorization that Mr. Bush sought and won from Congress in the months before the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

In a speech last week, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I am working on legislation to repeal that authorization and replace it with a much narrower mission statement for our troops in Iraq.”

“We should make equally clear what their mission is not: to stay in Iraq indefinitely and get mired in a savage civil war,” said Mr. Biden, a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate.

Officials said Mr. Biden; Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and a small group of other key Democrats were involved in the effort to draft legislation. It was not clear whether the measure would state explicitly that the 2002 authorization for the use of military force was being revoked.

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