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Bush Vetoes Iraq Funding Bill

President Bush has vetoed a bill funding the war in Iraq and military operations in Afghanistan, because it contains a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, Democrats and Republicans also marked the fourth anniversary of the president's May 1, 2003 statement that major military operations in Iraq had ceased.

As sent to the White House, the measure provides more than $95 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, it also contains a provision that U.S. troops begin leaving Iraq as early as October, with a goal of removing most combat forces by April of next year.

Speaking in Florida, the president repeated his contention that the legislation in its current form would help al-Qaida in Iraq. "It would help them gain new recruits, new resources. It would cause them to believe they could strike free nations at their choice," he said.

Speaking just before sending the legislation to the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid urged the president to sign the bill.

PELOSI: "With the benchmarks to hold the Iraqi government accountable, this legislation respects the wishes of the American people to end the Iraq war."

REID: "A veto means denying our troops the resources, and the strategy that they need."

Earlier, Republicans supporting the president accused Democrats of undermining U.S. troops and threatening U.S. security by attempting to schedule a troop withdrawal.

"The bill on the way to the president, after this Kabuki Theater, substitutes congressional mandates for the considered judgments of our military leaders," he said.

New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez argued against continuing what he called a failed policy in Iraq. "Vetoing the supplemental sends the message to the Iraqis that they do not have to take responsibilities and that our troops will be in Iraq indefinitely," he said.

House Republicans used a news conference to accuse Democrats of engaging in a "political charade" while delaying urgently needed funds for the military.

"It is not the job of Congress to micro-manage the war," said Roy Blunt, the House minority whip.

Blunt also touched on one option Democrats and Republicans might consider as part of a compromise to re-craft the bill, telling VOA that "political and economic aid might be the logical thing to look at."

While dropping Democrat-crafted language on troop withdrawal, a new measure might link Iraqi government progress in meeting specific political, military and economic benchmarks to future U.S. assistance.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino Tuesday described as a "trumped-up political stunt" Democrat's decision to send the spending bill to the president on the fourth anniversary of a speech in 2003 after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Delivering that speech on a U.S. aircraft carrier, the president declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ceased, while adding there was a long road ahead as Iraq transitioned from dictatorship to democracy.

House Republicans and Democrats delivered emotional statements about that anniversary, including Democrat John Larson and Republican Phil Gingrey.

LARSON: "The only reason we are there and continue to lose lives is because there is no mission other than arrogance and hubris that has led this president to stay this course."

GINGREY: I admonish [House] Speaker Pelosi to quit playing politics with our national security. Let Congress vote for a clean funding bill for our troops. Democratic leaders may be content to lose the war but the troops are in harm's way and they certainly will not lose this war."

Speaker Pelosi denied any political motives for the timing of the legislation.

Pelosi and other congressional leaders from both parties go to the White House Wednesday for their weekly meeting with the president, expected to focus on next steps for the war funding measure.