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US House Passes Iraq Withdrawal Timetable

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has approved a war funding bill that includes a timetable for the eventual withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the vote was 218 to 208. The Senate will consider it Thursday, but President Bush plans to veto the final product reaching his desk.

Debate on the conference report for the measure, containing about $95 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan military operations, featured familiar arguments from both sides of the political aisle.

Democrats said setting a specific deadline reflects American's desire to bring U.S. troops home and wind down U.S. involvement in Iraq, while asserting new controls over the president.

Republicans accused Democrats of telegraphing to al-Qaida terrorists, and those fanning sectarian strife, that the U.S. is giving up.

Congressman David Dreier asserted Democrats are also withdrawing support from the troops. "While this political charade plays out, our troops will be left waiting for the funding that they need to do their jobs, and our country trapped in a political quagmire created by the Democratic leadership in this Congress," he said.

Democrats pointed to what they call the president's failed policies in Iraq, as Congressman Jim McGovern referred to the president's veto threat. "If he does so, then this president will make perfectly clear to the American people that the only way this war is going to end, the only way our troops will every come home to their families and loved ones, the only way Iraqis will ever be held accountable for governing their own country and ending their sectarian violence, will be if Congress finds a way to end it," he said.

The measure sets a non-binding goal of withdrawing most U.S. combat forces by April of 2008, with the first movements beginning as early as October of this year. Some would remain for diplomatic protection and counter-terrorist operations.

It also contains provisions requiring that military units be fully battle-ready, and limits the duration of deployments, although the president could waive these requirements.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the legislation also contains benchmarks for the Iraqi government that the president has endorsed. "Benchmarks endorsed by the Iraqi government, and by President Bush. They are his own benchmarks," she said.

Earlier, lawmakers attended a classified briefing with Iraq commander General David Petraeus.

Democrats said it buttressed their argument that Congress must impose a timetable, while Republicans came away more convinced than ever that this would be a mistake.

General Petraeus said that while inroads have been made against al-Qaida and sectarian extremists, it's clear more work needs to be done. "We are actually ahead of where I wanted to be in some areas, and probably behind where we might have hoped to be in some other areas," he said.

House passage sets up Senate consideration on Thursday, and if approved there, the measure goes to the president.

A veto would send it back to Congress, forcing Democrats to re-craft the legislation, which would have to be voted on again in both chambers.