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US House of Representatives Opens Debate on Withdrawal from Iraq

The U.S. House of Representatives has begun a debate on a spending measure containing more than $95 billion to fund the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, President Bush reiterated his displeasure with the way congressional Democrats are moving the measure through the House and has threatened to veto it.

In more than five hours of debate stretching to a planned vote Friday, Democrats and Republicans will repeat the positions they have voiced in recent weeks in support and opposition to the legislation.

The bill ties funding needed to support the more than 140,000 troops in Iraq and another 20,000 in Afghanistan with requirements to limit the duration of deployments, and requirements that the president certify the readiness of military units.

Congressman John Murtha, a Vietnam war veteran, has been the driving force behind these provisions, and earlier this month challenged lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle to support the bill. "Is there anybody that thinks we shouldn't have equipment for the troops, or training for the troops, before they go into combat? Anybody here? No. Anybody here think we should extend these troops to the last week they are in Iraq [and then] tell them you're going to be extended for three months? No of course not, you don't think that," he said.

In addition to troop readiness requirements, the measure would require U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq as early as the end of this year, but no later than August 31 of 2008.

The pullout would be triggered if the president is unable to report to Congress that the Iraqi government is satisfactorily meet political, economic, and security benchmarks.

Democratic leaders have had a difficult time persuading all their members, but specifically the most outspoken anti-war Democrats and some moderates, to support the legislation.

Opposition Republicans are virtually unanimous against the measure because it contains billions of dollars not related to military needs.

House minority leader John Boehner predicts that Democrats' tactics will ultimately fail, forcing them to come back with a bill focused only on war requirements. "This is just the opening round of what I would expect will be several more months of discussions, before we finally get to a clean supplemental spending bill to pay for our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said.

President Bush says he will veto any legislation that establishes a timetable or other conditions.

After meeting with Americans working on Iraqi provincial reconstruction teams, the president issued another warning to congressional Democrats. "In the bill that's now being debated, there is money to help you do your jobs in that bill -- and Congress needs to get that bill out as quickly as possible, without a lot of extra spending and without a lot of strings to it," he said.

The Senate is expected to consider its version of funding legislation as early as next week, after the Senate appropriations committee approved a measure calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by March of 2008, but providing about $3 billion less than the House measure

Before the Iraq bill reached the floor of the House, Democrats heard from two prominent figures who urged them to vote for it.

Former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, said the measure provides "a light at the end of the tunnel" [for the U.S. involvement in Iraq].

And in a closed door meeting, former U.S. national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, told Democrats that a "no" vote would send a message of confusion to President Bush and give him a free hand in Iraq.