Congressional Republicans killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have put the United States on record against the permanent basing of U.S. military facilities in that country, a lawmaker and congressional aides said on Friday.
The $94.5 billion emergency spending bill, which includes $65.8 billion to continue waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to be approved by Congress next week and sent to President George W. Bush for signing into law.
As originally passed by the House of Representatives, the Pentagon would have been prohibited from spending any of the funds for entering into a military basing rights agreement with Iraq.
A similar amendment passed by the Senate said the Pentagon could not use the next round of war funding to “establish permanent United States military bases in Iraq, or to exercise United States control over the oil infrastructure or oil resources of Iraq.”
The Bush administration has said it does not want to place any artificial timelines on a U.S. presence in Iraq and that it wants to begin withdrawing troops when Iraqi security forces are better able to protect the country. But it has not ruled out permanent bases in Iraq.
While the Pentagon does not necessarily plan to use any of the emergency funds to establish a permanent military presence in Iraq, congressional Democrats wanted Congress to be on record against such a long-term military arrangement.
Doing so, they argued, could help overcome Middle East fears that the United States intended to control the region militarily, at least in part to oversee foreign oil reserves.
“The perception that the U.S. intends to occupy Iraq indefinitely is fueling the insurgency and making our troops more vulnerable,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who won House approval of her amendment on permanent bases.
“The House and Senate went on record opposing permanent bases, but now the Republicans are trying to sneak them back in the middle of the night,” Lee said.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored the Senate language.
Senate aides said Republican staffers removed the provisions from the bills before House and Senate negotiators convened this week in a late-night work session to write a compromise spending bill.
Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, tried to reinsert the language, but it was opposed by Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Arizona Republican responsible for foreign affairs portions of the spending bill.
Next week, the House is scheduled to have a wide-ranging debate about the Iraq war at which time Democrats are likely to raise this issue again.