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Legislators Agree on Iraq Funding Bill; Vote Scheduled for Later This Week

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a military funding bill containing a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, approval of a conference report for the Iraq-Afghanistan measure moves it to the full House and later the Senate for approval, but the legislation still faces a certain veto by President Bush.

The meeting in a basement room of the U.S. Capitol was relatively short, mainly because the fate of the legislation, under the veto threat of the president, has already been assured.

With $95 billion of the $120 billion in the bill going for military needs and the rest for various domestic purposes, the legislation now goes to the House floor, and then to the Senate, and from there to the president.

Congressman David Obey began Monday's meeting by addressing the president's threat of a veto, saying that the real significance will be in sending a clear message about the scrutiny the president's war funding requests will get from the Democratic-controlled Congress:

"What is important is not so much the exact language of whatever instrument it is we send to the president," said David Obey. "What is important is the unity that we express in doing so, so that people understand that we are going to be coming back at this issue again and again."

Republicans focused mainly on the need to approve final bill quickly, and get it to the president so he can veto it, returning the measure to Capitol Hill where it will have to be revised.

Congressman Jerry Lewis also conveyed the Republican contention that Democrats are attempting to tie the hands of the president and military commanders:

"This legislation ought to focus on our troops," said Jerry Lewis. "It ought to focus on providing those in harm's way with the resources they need to complete their mission successfully. It ought to respect, not micro-manage our combatant commanders in whom we place the ultimate responsibility for prosecuting military actions."

The measure that goes to the president, probably by week's end, would set a goal of a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops to begin no later than October 1 of this year, with a non-mandatory goal of removing all combat forces from Iraq by April 1 of 2008.

House Democrats agreed to adopt Senate language that is softer than a bill the House approved many weeks ago that proposed a mandatory withdrawal by October 2008.

The Democratic plan would largely limit U.S. troops to training Iraqi security forces, protecting remaining U.S. forces, and conducting targeted counter-terrorism operations.

President Bush met Monday at the White House with the commander of the Iraq war, General David Petraeus, and repeated his contention that setting a withdrawal timetable would be disastrous for both nations.

"An artificial timetable of withdrawal would say to an enemy, 'just wait them out.' It would say to the Iraqis, 'do not do hard things necessary to achieve our objectives,' and it would be discouraging for our troops," said President Bush.

The president acknowledged that Iraq continues to be plagued by violence, including what he termed "horrific bombings," but asserts that the military build-up of U.S. forces referred to many as a surge, is showing some signs of progress.

But in a Washington speech Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the president is wrong, and reserved some of his sharpest criticism for the Iraqi government:

"Despite our surge in troops, and spending, they have failed to take meaningful steps toward achieving them [benchmarks for progress]," noted Harry Reid. "Militias have not disbanded and continue to cause terror and now the Iraqi government, once the Bush administration's greatest pride, stands on the brink of chaos."

Without enough support to override a veto, Democrats will have to recraft the measure to make it acceptable for the president, and ensure that funds can move to military forces on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to setting the goal of withdrawing from Iraq, the legislation in its current form also limits the amount of time troops can be deployed to Iraq, and requires that military units be fully battle-ready, but allows the president to waive these requirements if he provides justifications to Congress.