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|Gen. David Petraeus, second from right, the top U.S. commander in Iraq walks on Capitol Hill Wednesday between meetings with members of Congress to discuss the latest on the war in Iraq. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)|
Democrats brushed off a White House veto threat and pleas for patience from the top U.S. commander in Iraq Wednesday and pushed toward a vote demanding that troops begin coming home this fall.
Their insistence guaranteed a historic showdown with President Bush, the first on the war since Democrats took control of Congress in January.
"Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear enemy and no clear strategy for success," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Late Wednesday, the House was expected to pass a $124.2 billion war-funding bill that would require troop withdrawals to begin Oct. 1 with the goal of completing the pullout six months later. Bush has promised to veto the bill and has enough Republican votes to sustain his objection.
Bush dispatched his Iraq general, David Petraeus, and other top officials to Capitol Hill to make his case: Additional forces recently sent to Iraq are yielding mixed results and the strategy needs more time to work.
Lawmakers ducked into the briefing as protesters shouted, "Troops home now!" Republicans and Democrats alike later emerged to say Petraeus confirmed their positions.
Republicans said Petraeus told them al-Qaida was a primary threat in Iraq and a withdrawal timetable would hurt U.S. efforts. Democrats said the general made clear that sectarian violence had made progress difficult and that he couldn’t give a complete assessment of the security situation until September.
"This briefing reinforced our view that the solution in Iraq is a political solution," Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters. Also confirmed, he said, was "our belief that we must hold the Iraqis accountable for achieving real progress."
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, his party’s leader, said Petraeus acknowledged there were challenges. "But considering where we are, I think the general feels good about the progress thus far," Boehner said.
The bill, already negotiated with Senate leaders, is expected to reach the president’s desk by early next week following a final Senate vote Thursday.
Bush said he stands firm on his latest strategy for winning the war and dismisses as counterproductive the Democratic call for withdrawal.
"That means our commanders in the middle of a combat zone would have to take fighting directions from legislators 6,000 miles away on Capitol Hill," Bush said this week. "The result would be a marked advantage for our enemies and a greater danger for our troops."
In recent days, the debate has turned personal, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., receiving the brunt of GOP criticism.
Republicans on Wednesday focused on Reid’s comment that the war was lost. He said last week that he believed strides in Iraq could be made only on the political and diplomatic fronts.
"It is fairly irresponsible rhetoric at a time of war to make such a sweeping declaration," said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla. "It certainly doesn’t do anything to help the morale of our troops in harm’s way."
Republicans also criticized Pelosi for what they said was a snub of Petraeus’ briefing. She opted for a 30-minute phone call with him Tuesday evening.
Pelosi responded in a statement that she received from Petraeus the same information he planned to deliver Wednesday.
"We share a conviction that the war in Iraq will not be resolved militarily, and I look forward to future reports from him on the effects of President Bush’s escalation plan," she said.
Just hours before debate on the bill was to begin, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt told reporters he was not concerned about GOP defections despite the unpopularity of the war. But Blunt, R-Mo., said progress must be made soon or that could change.
Blunt also said Republicans would be open to legislation that would condition foreign aid for Iraq on the government’s ability to meet certain standards, such as reaching a political compromise on sharing oil revenues.