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US Senate Democrat Offers Plan to Begin Pulling Troops From Iraq

A key Senate Democrat has introduced legislation calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin within 120 days. Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says setting a timeline for a troop pullout is the only way to press Iraqi leaders to make the necessary compromises toward establishing a stable government. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Senator Levin introduced his amendment as part of a defense policy bill.

"Without setting a date to begin the phased reduction of troops, a phased redeployment of troops, there is much too little pressure on the Iraqi leaders to do what they can only do, which is to work out a political settlement," he said.

Levin says Iraqi leaders have done little to make the compromises required to establish a unity government.

Under Levin's amendment, U.S. combat operations would cease by the end of April of next year. Some U.S. troops would remain in Iraq to continue training Iraqi forces and fight terrorism.

Levin introduced his legislation as a growing number of senior Republican lawmakers have publicly broken with President Bush and called for a new direction in Iraq, one that would reduce U.S. combat troops there.

But it is not clear whether these senators will back Levin's amendment. Their support is crucial for the measure's passage.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who just returned from a trip to Iraq, argued against the measure.

"We must recognize that no lasting political settlement can grow out of a U.S. withdrawal," he said. "On the contrary, a withdrawal must grow out of a political solution, a solution made possible by the imposition of security by coalition and Iraqi forces."

But Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questions whether that political solution envisioned by the Bush administration is possible in Iraq.

"Their entire premise, as I said, is based on a fundamentally flawed premise: that they can build a competent, popular supported government, based upon a consensus of the three parties, and it resides in Baghdad," he said. "That is the central flaw in their strategy. It cannot be sustained. The hard truth is that absent a foreign occupation or a dictator, Iraq cannot be run from the center."

The Senate is debating U.S. strategy in Iraq as the Bush administration is preparing to send Congress an interim report about Iraq by Sunday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who postponed a trip to Latin America this week, is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill ahead of the report's release.