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Congress Continues Iraq Debate, Reacts to Interim Report


Congress is continuing debate on the war in Iraq, as lawmakers react to the Bush administration's interim report on political, military and economic benchmarks the United States has set for the Iraqi government. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the House of Representatives is debating a resolution calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal by April 2008, as the Senate continues consideration of Iraq amendments.

As they digested the findings of the administration's interim report on Iraqi government progress, House lawmakers began a debate set for five hours on a troop withdrawal resolution.

The measure demands that most U.S. combat forces leave Iraq by April 1 of next year, with the withdrawal process to begin within 120 days.

In addition, President Bush would have to report to Congress on why U.S. soldiers should remain in Iraq for the purposes of diplomatic protection or training of Iraqi troops.

Referring to what he called "strategic mistakes" made in Iraq, Democratic Congressman Ike Skelton said that Congress cannot wait until September, when it is due to receive the next report on Iraq.

"We haven't got time for the waiting game, that is where we are now," he said. "The purpose of this is a matter of readiness, it is a matter of national security, it is a matter that we must face now or else the strain and stretch on our ground forces, particularly our Army and of course the Marines will be beyond repair."

But Republican Duncan Hunter said the new interim report showed there was satisfactory progress in eight of 18 key benchmarks set for the Iraqis.

Congress should not vote to change strategy, Hunter asserted, until the September report from U.S. Iraq commander General David Petraeus and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

"This is an attempt once again to stampede a retreat from Iraq, and it is a gratuitous attempt to do this," said Crocker.

House Foreign Affairs chairman Tom Lantos suggested that far from demonstrating progress, the administration report on Iraq reflects setbacks.

"With every car bomb that takes civilian toll, every insurgent's bullet that finds it mark, every roadside explosive that maims or kills one of our own brave men and women in uniform, the sacrifices mount and the result is anything but satisfactory," said Lantos.

Calling the Democrat's withdrawal resolution a public relations victory for [U.S.] enemies, House minority leader John Boehner described the interim report, which he noted comes after less than one month of the U.S. military surge, as a positive development.

"But we need to see more progress from the Iraqi people and their government on key political benchmarks, where progress has been unsatisfactory to date," said Boehner.

As the House moved toward a vote on its resolution, the Senate continued debate on various Iraq-related amendments, including one similar to the House Democrat's April 2008 withdrawal target.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid is continuing efforts to win more Republican support, in the wake of statements by some key Senate Republicans breaking with the president:

"We are going to continue to work with Democrats and Republicans, those who have spoken out, against the policy in Iraq," he said. "We would hope that they would start voting the right way, rather than just talking the right way."

In his comments accompanying the release of the progress report, President Bush reiterated his view that the U.S. can still succeed in Iraq.

The president has promised to veto any legislation reaching his desk that contains a timetable for withdrawal, and would likely have enough support on Capitol Hill to sustain a veto.

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