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US Senate Debates Plan to Withdraw Troops from Iraq in Marathon Session


In the U.S. Senate, Democratic leaders are holding a rare round-the-clock session to press Republicans to vote for a proposal calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Republican leaders are using procedural tactics to block the measure from moving forward on the Senate floor. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Senators are debating a plan, proposed as an amendment to a defense bill, that calls for a U.S. troop pullout from Iraq to begin within 120 days and completed by next April.

Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, is a key sponsor.

"The Bush administration's current policy is straining our military, inhibiting our ability to fight the war on terrorism, diminishing our standing in the international community, and rapidly losing the support of the American public," he said. "In sum, it is a policy that cannot be sustained."

But Republican opponents argue that withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq before Iraqis are able to defend their own country would only lead to more violence, and would hand a victory to terrorists.

"If we leave Iraq prematurely, jihadists around world would interpret the withdrawal as their great victory against our great power," said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

But Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of a few Republicans who support the measure, says the proposal does not call for a premature withdrawal.

"It is a redeployment, a reduction in forces, a change in mission, for example, to engage in counterinsurgency against al-Qaida," she noted. "I think this is the most reasoned, reasonable approach. It is not rash."

Snowe favors a change in U.S. strategy in Iraq because, she argues, the Iraqi government has not done enough toward establishing a stable unity government.

Supporters of the troop withdrawal plan say more than 50 senators, a majority in the 100-member chamber, back the measure.

But they acknowledge that they lack the 60 votes necessary under Senate rules to overcome Republican efforts to block the legislation. A vote to limit debate and allow an up-or-down vote on the troop withdrawal measure scheduled Wednesday is expected to fail.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada says he hopes the round-the-clock session could alter the vote's outcome.

"Will the all-night session change any votes? I hope so, because it will focus attention on the obstructionism of the Republicans," he said.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow views the marathon Senate session as pure political theater.

"The idea of going through the gesture of having late night, all-night meeting is highly unusual," he said. "You think, okay, this might be kind of interesting, so let's take it for the spectator event it is."

The White House has been urging lawmakers to wait to assess the situation in Iraq until the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, briefs Congress in September.

Despite the gridlock on the troop withdrawal amendment, lawmakers did vote 94 to 3 in favor of a Republican-sponsored, non-binding resolution saying the Senate should not pass legislation that would undermine the U.S. military's ability to prevent a failed state in Iraq.