US Senate Republicans have blocked a proposal to give American troops in Iraq
more rest from battle, as Democrats renewed their attempts to change
President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy.
While the White House won this initial skirmish on a military policy bill, it lost the
support of seven of Mr Bush’s fellow Republicans in the Senate’s vote
on requiring minimum rest times between troop deployments.
Six of the seven Republicans who broke ranks are up for re-election next year.
Mr Bush faces another challenge on Thursday, this time in the House of Representatives.
Democratic leaders predicted they will pass a bill requiring the start of US
combat troop withdrawals within four months and completing it by April 1, 2008.
“My main concern is the readiness of our U.S. military,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, a
Missouri Democrat who is pushing the legislation and thinks the long
Iraq war is “draining” the army.
In March, the House passed a similar plan, which was not accepted by the Senate.
House Democrats hope passage of this bill, coupled with public opposition to
the war, will goad the Senate into action on a similar measure setting
an April 30, 2008 deadline for withdrawing troops.
But passage there will be difficult because of procedural rules that likely would
require 60 of the Senate’s 100 members to approve it.
Several Republicans have signed up to co-sponsor the Senate withdrawal
proposal, including Senators Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of
Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Trying to calm dissent among a growing number of Republicans over the Iraq war, the White
House dispatched national security adviser Stephen Hadley to Capitol Hill for the second straight day, while Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice telephoned lawmakers.
They urged senators to back Mr Bush’s determination to wait until September for an evaluation by
General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, instead of embracing
some lawmakers’ attempts to impose change with a series of votes this
“Basically the White House position is we should wait
to hear from General Petraeus before we take another step,” said Sen
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee after a session with Mr Hadley.
Seven Republicans joined 48 Democrats and one independent to vote for a plan
by Virginia Sen James Webb to ensure that troops, many of whom have
endured multiple deployments to Iraq, get adequate time at home between
tours of duty.
But that was still four votes short of the 60 needed given procedural hurdles erected by Republican leaders.
The Bush administration is expected to issue an interim report on Thursday
on the situation in Iraq and how the government in Baghdad is
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