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Senate Approves War Funding Bill, Timeline for Iraq Troop Pullout

The U.S. Senate, following the lead of the House of Representatives, has approved a compromise bill that funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it also sets a goal of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by early next year - a provision that President Bush says will force him to veto the measure as soon as he receives it. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Democratic-led Senate voted largely along party lines to approve the legislation, which is a compromise between earlier bills passed by the House of Representatives and Senate.

The measure includes about $95 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through September 30. It also calls for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq beginning in October or earlier, if President Bush determines the Iraqis have not met certain benchmarks, including disarming militias and taking steps toward a unity government.

The bill sets a non-binding goal of completing a withdrawal of combat troops by April first of next year.

It would allow for the continued deployment of some non-combat forces who are pursuing terrorist networks or training Iraqi troops.

Many Democrats used debate on the bill to reiterate their criticism of President Bush's handling of the war.

"The president has failed in his mission to bring peace and stability to the people of Iraq," said Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat.

The Democratic-led chamber approved the measure despite President Bush's vow to veto it, and personal appeals a day earlier by the top army general in Iraq, David Petraeus, to allow more time for a recent U.S. troop surge in Iraq to make progress.

Senate Republicans, including Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, said setting a timetable for a troop withdrawal sends the wrong signal.

"Just wait months, our enemies are told, and the place is yours. When the going gets tough, can you really count on the Americans to see it through in a responsible way? This is the wrong message at the wrong time," said Lott.

Senator John Warner of Virginia, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed concern about the impact the timetable withdrawal would have on the military mission in Iraq:

"This measure places undue constraints on the utilization of our brave military, together with our allies working with us, and indeed on the utilization of the Iraqi military, which likewise has followed through with a brave performance with our forces," he said.

But Democrats argued they were siding with most Americans, whom public-opinion polls show favor setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

"President Bush should be listening to the American people and working with Congress to bring this tragic war to an end. Instead of continuing to defy the will of the American people and Congress by threatening to veto the legislation, he should be putting the Iraqis on notice," said Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. "He must make it clear to the Iraqi government that it is time for them to take responsibility for their country and resolve their political differences. The American military will not police Iraq's civil war indefinitely."

Democrats hope to send the bill to President Bush as early as Monday, the day before the fourth anniversary of the president's speech aboard an aircraft carrier when he declared the end of major combat operations under a banner that said, "Mission Accomplished".

After the expected veto, lawmakers would have to rewrite the legislation, as the Democratic-led House and Senate lack the two-thirds majorities needed to override a veto. Both chambers are expected to approve legislation funding the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan before the current funding runs out by June or July.