Democrats said yesterday that the United States must start “redeploying” troops from Iraq, calling the recovery of the mutilated bodies of two U.S. soldiers a “grim reminder” of why withdrawal should begin soon.
Republican leaders called the proposal for withdrawal a “cut and run” that would embolden terrorists.
The Senate is expected to spend at least five hours today debating two competing Democratic proposals to start pulling U.S. combat troops out of Iraq.
The killings are “a grim reminder of the price we’re paying for a failed policy in Iraq,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip. “It’s time for Iraqis to stand up. When will this end?”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said withdrawing troops would be a “dishonor of historic proportions.”
“The Iraqi people want us and need us to help them. If we break our promise and cut and run, as some would have us do, the implications could be catastrophic,” the Tennessee Republican said. “Surrendering is not a solution. We cannot go wobbly. The price is too high.”
Last night, in a speech at the Hyatt Regency Washington to Republican volunteers, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said, “Republicans unite on the need to stay on the offense to confront terrorists; Democrats are having a debate in their party.”
He characterized the Democratic debate as some “say we need to cut and run; some people say we need to walk … and other people say we need to jog.”
The comments come as lawmakers embark on a second week of debating Iraq policy, this time in the form of the Senate’s defense authorization bill.
Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, have sponsored an amendment that calls for “phased redeployment” to begin by Dec. 31. The nonbinding amendment would require the Bush administration to submit a schedule for continued troop withdrawal.
Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin have a binding amendment calling for all combat troops to be redeployed by July 1, 2007. A similar measure offered last week was overwhelmingly defeated in the Senate.
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Feingold — potential presidential candidates in 2008 — sent a joint e-mail to Mr. Kerry’s 2004 campaign supporters saying that withdrawal will lead to a more effective war on terror.
“Our troops have served valiantly in Iraq,” the senators said. “Now, it’s time to put the future of Iraq where it belongs: in the hands of the Iraqi people and their leaders.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats agree that there “should be a redeployment starting sooner rather than later,” and downplayed the difference between the Levin and Kerry amendments.
“Even though we have at least two positions, I think if you look at them closely, they are both basically the same: that there should be redeployment of troops. It’s a question of when,” the Nevada Democrat said.
Mr. Levin and Mr. Reed insisted yesterday that their amendment is not “cutting and running,” and that it sets no pace or speed for combat troops to leave Iraq.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, disagreed. “I don’t support it. I strongly believe it’s not when we leave, it’s how we leave,” he said.
Either amendment would need 51 votes to become attached to the defense authorization bill. It is unlikely that enough Republicans will join the about 40 Democrats expected to vote for the Levin amendment. Fewer Democrats are expected to back the Kerry amendment because it fixes a date for complete withdrawal from Iraq.
National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters on Air Force One yesterday that Iraqis are eager to assume responsibility for their nation’s security. “Their concern is that we will move, draw down our forces too quickly, before they’re ready,” he said.
The Senate last year passed a resolution declaring that 2006 would be a year of “significant transition” in Iraq.
Last week, House lawmakers voted 256-153 to reject a timetable for troop withdrawal and approved a nonbinding resolution that affirms the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.
The 10 hours of House debate and expected five hours of Senate debate are the most significant discussion of Iraq policy since the war began in March 2003. More than 2,500 troops have been killed in the war.
The Senate yesterday voted 79-19 to pass a nonbinding amendment saying Iraq should not grant amnesty to terrorists who attack, kill or wound U.S. troops, responding to a newspaper report that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was considering limited pardons for militants who lay down arms. Senators also voted 64-34 to approve a measure saying Congress recognizes Iraq as a sovereign nation.
Stephen Dinan and Alison Hoover contributed to this report.