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US Lawmakers Debate Iraq, Iran Policy in Defense Measure


Legislation approved Thursday by the House of Representatives contains provisions dealing with Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan among other issues. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on the day-long debate on the measure authorizing just over $600 billion in Pentagon and other spending for 2009, including $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and establishing overall policies.

The House bill contains provisions majority Democrats say would impose greater transparency and accountability on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It links future U.S. spending on reconstruction to Iraqi government contributions, seeks greater oversight of and controls on private contractors, and more oversight of U.S. provincial reconstruction teams.

Lawmakers reiterate concerns over bilateral agreements the Bush administration has been negotiating with Iraq, and require a report to Congress on one of those, called a Status of Forces Agreement(SOFA.

Emotional exchanges occurred over Democrat Barbara Lee's amendment, approved 234 to 183, to require that any agreement committing the United States to defend Iraq from internal or external threats be a treaty subject to congressional approval.

"An agreement of this kind to commit American troops to the defense and security of another country is not routine or typical or minor," she said. "It is is a major commitment that must have the support of the American people and that popular support will only be reflected through the Congress, the people's house."

"Certain members of the other side don't like the president, so they come down [here] and say anything he does now has to be ratified by Congress," responded Republican Duncan Hunter. "I think that disparages a process."

Democrat John Yarmuth spoke in favor of language requiring Iraq to pay a greater share of its reconstruction and other burdens.

"American taxpayers send $339 million to Iraq each day, money that could be invested here as gas prices are soaring, education is lagging, health care is increasingly out of reach and everywhere American families are struggling," he said.

Lawmakers also urge greater Pentagon efforts to hire Iraqis who worked for U.S. and coalition forces, and provide incentives for private contractors to hire them.

On Iran, the legislation states a general concern that Iran's policies and actions threaten the internal security of neighbors and the collective stability of the region.

Republicans re-stated concerns about potential future threats from Iranian missiles as they tried but failed to restore $300 million cut from Bush administration missile defense programs.

Congressman Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona had argued unsuccessfully for much stronger language on Iran.

"Iran is moving inexorably toward the capability to have nuclear weapons," he said. "If they gain those weapons, we will see proliferation across the world, and I am convinced that terrorists will gain this deadly technology."

The House legislation also adds 12,000 personnel to the U.S. Army and Marines, along with pay raises, while authorizing spending for equipment, and health and quality of life improvements.

President Bush has threatened a veto of the House measure, with a White House statement raising objections to numerous provisions, including those dealing with future U.S. agreements with Iraq.

The administration strongly opposed amendments requiring video recording of all intelligence interrogations, and barring contractors from conducting interrogations.

The Senate has yet to consider its version of the Defense Authorization bill, and debate there is not expected until June.

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