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US Senate Democrats Plan Around-the-Clock Debate on Iraq

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U.S. Senate Democratic leaders are planning an around-the-clock debate on Iraq beginning Tuesday to try to pressure Republicans to vote for legislation calling for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by next April. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Democratic-sponsored troop withdrawal measure calls for the pullout to begin within 120 days after passage and completed by April of next year. Some troops would remain in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and fight terrorism.

The House of Representatives passed similar legislation last week, but prospects for passage in the Senate appear dim.

Senate Republicans echo the White House position that setting a timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq would amount to surrendering to terrorists.

"To execute a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq now, regardless of the conditions on the battlefield, and regardless of the advice of our commanders in the field, is unthinkable," said Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican. "It would be a stain on this Senate for years to come."

Republican opponents are vowing to block the measure from coming to a vote, prompting this response from the Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

"Republicans are more interested in protecting the president than our troops," he said.

Reid says more than 50 senators back the measure - enough to pass it on a simple majority vote in the 100-member chamber.

But at least 60 votes are needed under Senate rules to overcome any effort to halt the legislation - a margin that continues to elude supporters.

Opponents say Senator Reid's plan to hold the Senate in session for an all-night session will not make them back down.

Besides the troop pullout legislation, the Senate is also debating a Republican-backed proposal calling on President Bush to send Congress plans to begin downsizing the U.S. combat troop presence in Iraq by the end of the year. Those plans are to be sent to Congress by mid-October.

The proposal, co-sponsored by influential Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, also calls on the president to seek a new congressional war authorization for military operations in Iraq.

"I feel that in view of all that has transpired in nearly five years - this will be five years since we passed it this October, it is the duty of Congress to review it," he said.

But many Democrats believe that proposal does not go far enough because it does not require that troops be redeployed, but only that the president submit plans for their withdrawal.

"It is not enough to pass something that sounds good but does not move us toward ending the war," said Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.

The Iraq-related measures are being proposed as amendments to a defense policy bill.

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