- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican leader harshly criticized House Democrats for setting an “artificial date” for withdrawing troops from Iraq and said he thinks Republicans have enough votes to prevent passage of a similar bill in the Senate.

“We need to put that kind of decision in the hands of our commanders who are there on the ground with the men and women,” Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “For Congress to impose an artificial date of any kind is totally irresponsible.”

Meanwhile yesterday, Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S. said he also doubted that the U.S. government would set any artificial deadline but warned of “inevitable” dire consequences if it did so.

“If they did [set a deadline], they would live to regret it,” Samir Sumaidaie said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “If we set out a date now for a complete withdrawal, you can bet your bottom dollar that the terrorists are going to be waiting for that date and attacking and launching their biggest attack on civilians and the institutions of the state of Iraq.”

The Senate planned to begin debate today on a war spending bill that would set a nonbinding goal of March 31, 2008, for the removal of combat troops. That comes after the House narrowly passed a bill Friday that would pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year but would require that combat troops come home from Iraq before September 2008 — or earlier, if the Iraqi government did not meet certain requirements.

In his weekly address Saturday, President Bush accused Democrats of partisanship in the House vote and said the legislation would cut the number of troops below a level that U.S. military commanders say they need. Vice President Dick Cheney also accused Democrats of undermining U.S. troops in Iraq and of sending a message to terrorists that America will retreat in the face danger.

Mr. Lott said setting withdrawal dates is a futile and potentially dangerous exercise because Mr. Bush has made it clear that he will veto any such legislation.

“There are members in the Senate in both parties that are not comfortable with how things have gone in Iraq,” Mr. Lott said. “But they understand that artificial timetables, even as goals, are a problem. … We will try to take out the arbitrary dates.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said on CNN that the Senate bill seeks to heed the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group by setting a goal of withdrawing some troops while leaving others behind to train the Iraqi army for border patrol and other missions.

On ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, said he and Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, would “introduce some legislation that will, in fact, have the force of law” today or tomorrow, but he declined to give details.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said she thought setting a timetable appropriate but declined to predict whether it would garner enough Senate votes to pass.

“People of this country have spoken overwhelmingly. It’s been constant now,” Mrs. Feinstein said on Fox News. “They want us out. It is time for the Senate to weigh in. I hope we will have the votes.”

Roadside bombs killed five U.S. soldiers in Iraq yesterday, including four in a single strike in Diyala, northeast of the capital, the military said.

In Baghdad, gunmen on rooftops opened fire on Iraqi soldiers, prompting fierce fighting in the narrow streets and alleys of a Sunni insurgent stronghold on the east side of the Tigris River. At least two civilians were killed and four others were wounded in the clashes, police said, as U.S. attack helicopters buzzed overhead.


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