The Republican-led U.S. Senate has approved a measure calling for Iraqis to take the lead in securing their country next year to allow for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops. But it turned down a Democrat-sponsored measure calling on President Bush to outline an estimated timetable for a gradual troop withdrawal.
In a sign of eroding support for the war in Iraq, the Senate voted 79 to 19 in favor of a non-binding measure calling on Iraqis to take more control over the security of their country, a move Republicans said would create the conditions for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is a sponsor of the amendment, which has yet to be approved by the House of Representatives.
"This amendment as drawn is a very powerful, very powerful statement by Congress - if the House adopts it, but certainly by the Senate - of the need to tell the Iraqi people that we have done our share, we are not going to leave them, but we expect from them equal if not greater support than they have given to this date," said Mr. Warner.
The amendment, attached to a defense authorization bill, calls for 2006 to be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi forces taking the lead in providing security.
Members of Congress are concerned about the impact the war in Iraq might have on their re-election prospects next year, when one-third of the Senate and all 435 House seats will be up for grabs.
Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans are not happy with President Bush's handling of the Iraq war, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Americans amid an intractable insurgency.
The measure calling on Iraqis to take more control over their country's security also calls on President Bush to provide Congress with quarterly reports on the progress being made toward stabilizing Iraq, and to lay out a strategy for ending the war.
Democrats, including Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, say the plan represents a shift in Republican sentiment on Iraq.
"For the first time, our Republican colleagues have joined Democrats in insisting on a clear Iraqi strategy from this administration, a schedule to achieve it, and real accountability," said Mr. Biden.
The Senate acted after earlier rejecting a Democrat-sponsored amendment calling on Mr. Bush to establish an estimated timetable for a gradual troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, supported the measure.
"An open-ended commitment of our military forces does not serve America's best interests, and it does not serve Iraqis' interests either," said Mr. Kennedy. "Our current misguided policy has turned Iraq into a quagmire, with no end in sight."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee called the Democrats' amendment dangerous and irresponsible:
"Publishing a timeline for our retreat will encourage the terrorists, it will confuse the Iraqi people," said Mr. Frist.
Later, the Senate approved (on an 84 to 14 vote) an amendment that would grant foreign terror suspects at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba limited access to federal courts to appeal rulings of U.S. military tribunals.
Under the measure, detainees sentenced to at least 10 years in prison or to death by a military tribunal get an automatic appeal to the federal appeals court in Washington. Those who receive fewer than 10 years would have to petition the court to hear their cases.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, sponsored the amendment along with Arizona Republican Jon Kyl and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin.
"This Levin-Graham-Kyl amendment allows every detainee under our control to have their day in court," said Mr. Graham.
The measure modifies an amendment passed last week that would have denied terror suspects the right to challenge their detention in court, a right known as habeas corpus.
The overall defense bill, which was passed in a 98 to zero vote, also includes language that would ban cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees and standardize interrogation procedures used by U.S. troops. The White House has threatened to veto any bill that includes such language, saying it would limit the president's efforts in the war on terror.
The bill also calls on the administration to provide Congress with details about alleged secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency overseas. It would also strip security clearances of any federal government official who knowingly discloses sensitive national security information.
These provisions, along with those on detainees, are not included in the House-passed version of the legislation, and it is not clear whether they will survive negotiations between the House and Senate on a final version of the bill that will be sent to President Bush.