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By THOMAS FERRARO
A top U.S. Senate Democrat said on Sunday his party aims to limit the role of the nearly 140,000 American troops in Iraq and withdraw most of them from the war-torn country within a year.
But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said it was unclear if enough Senate Republicans would break ranks with President George W. Bush to allow the effort to proceed.
Levin said Democrats do “not yet” have the needed 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to clear an anticipated roadblock and modify the 2002 congressional resolution that authorized Bush to wage war in Iraq.”
“We hope to pick up some Republicans. We don’t know if we will,” Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
A proposed Democratic resolution may be ready for Senate consideration as early as this week as the conflict enters its fifth year with critics saying U.S. troops should stay out of what has emerged into a civil war.
“Hopefully, we’re going to come with a resolution which is going to modify, in effect, the previous resolution that was very broad,” Levin said.
The senator said he and other Democrats want to “come up with wording … so that we would be in a supporting role rather than a combat role.”
Levin said Democrats aim to remove most U.S. forces by March 2008, but, “We don’t believe it is going to be possible to remove all of the troops.”
He said an undetermined number would be needed for training and supporting Iraqi troops and “a counter-terrorism purpose or a mission because there is about 5,000 al Qaeda in Iraq.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that while Congress has an important oversight role to play, they should avoid “micromanagement” of the war.
“When it comes to the execution of policy in the field, that has to be a clean relationship between the commander in chief and the commanders in the field,” Rice told ABC’s “This Week.”
“If you ever disrupt that chain, then you’re going to have the worst of micromanagement of the military affairs,” Rice warned.
Democrats control the U.S. Congress and most oppose Bush’s plans to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq. While some Republicans have voiced reservations, the majority of them seem to back the president’s plea to give his troop buildup a chance to succeed.
Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas said he would oppose any immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, but argued Iraq needs a political rather than a military solution.
Brownback, a contender for his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, said Iraq should be split into three semi-autonomous regions corresponding with the country’s predominant ethnic and religious factions.
“We need to press for that now before we lose all political will in this country,” Brownback told CNN’s “Late Edition.” Such a solution has long been pushed by Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, another 2008 presidential hopeful.
Levin said if Congress passes a new resolution and Bush ignores it, “Then we have a constitutional battle on our hands.”
The Michigan Democrat added that it would be difficult for Bush to brush aside such a measure, noting “he has relied so heavily on our resolution authorizing him to go to war in the first place.”
While some Democrats have talked about cutting funding of the war, Levin argued such an effort would be unfair to the troops, likely fail and “strengthen the president’s hand.”
(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan)
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