The Republican-led U.S. Senate has rejected two Democrat-sponsored proposals to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq this year.
As expected, Republicans backing President Bush to stay the course in Iraq prevailed.
The Senate voted 86-13 to oppose a plan put forward by Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by July 1 of next year.
The Senate then voted 60-39 to reject a proposal by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, to begin a troop pullout this year, but with no set date for completion of such a withdrawal.
Both plans were proposed as amendments to a defense bill.
Republicans, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, warned that withdrawing U.S. troops before the Iraqi army is fully prepared to defend the country against an intractable insurgency would lead to more violence and possible civil war.
"To abandon the fledgling Iraqi army police to the insurgents, the militias and the terrorists would risk chaos in Iraq, and chaos in Iraq would mean disaster," he said.
Kerry, who unsuccessfully challenged President Bush for the White House in 2004, defended his proposal, saying it would give Iraqis the true sovereignty they are seeking, and would redirect the efforts of U.S. troops where they are most needed in the war on terror.
"This plan honors the investment of our troops," he said. "In fact, what it does is provide a better way of not only empowering the Iraqis, but of empowering the United States of America to fight a more effective war on terror."
But the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, argued that both Kerry's and Levin's proposals would signal to the rest of the world that the United States was not serious about fulfilling its commitment in Iraq.
"Both of these amendments would send a message, which would indicate that there is some wavering, some equivocation here at home in supporting our president as commander-in-chief, and that goes to the basic credibility of the United States of America, which is on the line in these votes," he said.
Levin, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said the United States has demonstrated its commitment in Iraq, in terms of lives and dollars.
"We have proven our credibility over 2,500 times, because we have lost more than 2,500 of our troops," he said. "We have proven our credibility over 17,000 times, in terms of the number of people who have been wounded in Iraq. We have proven our credibility with hundreds of billions of dollars to give the Iraqis an opportunity to have a nation. It is up to them to seize that opportunity."
The Senate debate was both emotional and partisan.
In an attempt to score political points ahead of November's congressional elections, Republicans criticized Democrats for supporting what they called a policy of retreat.
"Withdrawal is not an option, surrender is not a solution," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
Democrats, who hope to capitalize on what public opinion polls show is an unpopular war in Iraq, criticized Republicans for backing President Bush in what they see as a failed policy in Iraq.
"I believe it is long past time to change course in Iraq, and start to end the president's open-ended commitment," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate's top Democrat.
The Senate votes come a week after the Republican-led House of Representatives rejected any timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.