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Partisan Divide Remains Over US Iraq War Funding

A roadside bomb in western Baghdad has killed six U.S. soldiers as well as an interpreter, while another explosion south of the capital killed a seventh U.S. serviceman. Meanwhile, leaders of the opposition-controlled U.S. Congress are promising new legislation to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before next week's recess. But Democrats remain at odds with the White House over whether or not to stipulate a future pullout of U.S forces from Iraq. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

Weeks ago, President Bush vetoed a war spending bill that contained objectives for withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq. With Congress preparing to adjourn and the Pentagon warning of increasingly dire consequences from a lack of war funding, pressure is intensifying to craft a new bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on ABC's This Week television program.

"One thing is for sure: by the time we leave here to honor those who have given their lives on Memorial Day [May 27th] weekend, we will have legislation to fund the troops," she said.

Recent signs of compromise include statements by President Bush that he is amenable to establishing benchmarks for Iraq's government. Democratic leaders in Congress appear to have abandoned imposing absolute deadlines for a troop pullout - a key feature of the funding bill Mr. Bush vetoed.

But a standoff remains. Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin is urging a bill with a withdrawal timeline, but one that President Bush could waive. The White House continues to insist that any bill containing a timeline, with or without a waiver provision, is unacceptable. Senator Levin expressed frustration on CNN's Late Edition program.

"The president, apparently, on Friday told the Democratic leaders [that] he will not sign a bill, even though he is not obligated to carry out the timeline, even though he has a waiver," he said. "I think that is a totally unsustainable position."

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a different point of view.

"Waivable or not, we do not want a retreat date, a surrender date, because it sends the wrong message to our allies, it sends the wrong message to the Iraqis, it sends the wrong message to the troops," he said.

Instead, McConnell suggested Democrats embrace a proposal put forth by a key Republican that would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government on governance and security with penalties for U.S. aid reductions if those targets were not met. Many Democrats say benchmarks are fine, but do not go far enough to bring about a shift in the U.S. mission in Iraq.

House Speaker Pelosi says a compromise can be found, but acknowledges hurdles remain.

"It is tough," she said. "There is no question. I believe we have an obligation to the American people to try to find common ground. But if the president says, 'No accountability - I want a blank check with a war without end,' we [Democrats] will have to oppose that."

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said time is running out to fund the troops.

"They need the money," he said. "They are running out of money. We need to give the troops the money without ensuring their defeat."

While the president has broad authority over how troops are used, only Congress can provide military funding.