The U.S. Senate has voted to consider a Democratic Party-sponsored resolution to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. The 89 to 9 vote occurred after opposition Republicans blocked two previous attempts to debate the Iraq war, which public opinion polls show is unpopular with the American people.
Under the resolution being debated by senators, the United States would begin withdrawing U.S. troops four months after the measure's passage, with the goal of completing redeployment by March 31 of next year.
The resolution says a limited number of U.S. forces could stay beyond that date to protect U.S. personnel, train and equip Iraqi forces and carry out counter-terrorism operations.
The Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, says it is time to start bringing troops home because the goals of the U.S. military mission authorized by Congress have been met.
"It was to take down Saddam Hussein if need be, it was to get rid of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist, and it was to get compliance to the U.N. resolutions," he said. "Every one of those have been met. Saddam is dead. There were no weapons. And Iraq is in compliance with the U.N. So if you want to be literal about it, the mission no longer has the force of law."
Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and long-time vocal critic of the Iraq war, said the time had come to end what he called a failed policy.
"It is time to change course," he said. "Let the Iraqis step up to the plate and take responsibility for their own future and begin to redeploy our troops out of Iraq."
Opposition Republicans, after blocking two previous Democratic attempts to debate the war, agreed to allow debate this time. But many Republicans made clear they would not support the resolution.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president next year, warned of dire consequences if U.S. troops begin withdrawing from Iraq.
"If we walk away from Iraq now, we risk a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, a haven for international terrorists, an invitation to regional war in an economically vital area, and humanitarian disaster that could involve millions of people," he said. "If we walk away from Iraq we will be back, possibly in the context of a wider war in the world's most volatile region."
The Senate's top Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said the resolution is a clear statement of retreat, and its passage would be fatal to the U.S. mission in Iraq.
"This is the memo that our enemies have been waiting for," he said. "Osama bin Laden and his followers have repeatedly said that the United States does not have the stomach for a long fight with the terrorists. Passage of the Reid joint resolution will be the first concrete sign since September 11, 2001 that he was right on target."
Republicans could use parliamentary procedures to block the measure from coming to a vote in the narrowly divided Senate.
The House is considering a similar version of the resolution.