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US House of Representatives Rejects Permanent Military Bases in Iraq

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a resolution prohibiting permanent American military bases in Iraq. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, Congress is already on record opposing permanent bases, but Democrats want the Bush administration to clarify its position on the matter.

In various pieces of legislation, notably bills setting defense policy and appropriating money for the military, lawmakers have made their opposition to permanent bases clear.

And in its report last year, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended a clear U.S. statement that it would not seek permanent bases or try to control Iraq's oil resources, aimed at creating what it called a positive climate for diplomatic efforts.

The resolution approved Wednesday by an overwhelming 399-24 vote sends another signal to President Bush at a time when he already faces intense pressure to move toward a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Its main author, California Democrat Barbara Lee, says it reflects congressional and public unease with what she calls mixed signals from the Bush administration.

"The perception that the U.S. plans to main a permanent military presence in Iraq strengthens the insurgency and it fuels the violence against our troops," she said.

As reflected in the vote, Republicans also supported the measure, noting that nothing would prevent the United States from forging future access agreements with the Iraqi government.

That was underscored by Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Duncan Hunter, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

LEHTINEN: "This legislation before us today does not prohibit the U.S. from entering into the inter-operability agreements that allow the U.S. in Iraq to share common infrastructure and bases.

HUNTER: The idea that we are going to insist on, or enforce or unilaterally lodge American troops in Iraq, is not something that is contemplate by anybody."

The resolution contains a series of quotes from President Bush, and current and former administration officials that Democrats contend demonstrate a lack of clarity on the issue.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used the opportunity to respond to President Bush's remarks on Iraq Tuesday, in which he linked al-Qaida in Iraq to Osama bin Laden, and said those urging a U.S. withdrawal are denying the consequences of such a step:

"This president's statements give great cause for grave concern, and they crystallized why the Congress must continue to pressure the administration to change course in Iraq," she said. "Yet again, President Bush mis-characterized the facts on the ground in Iraq, and the latest intelligence on the real threat of international Islamic terrorism."

The resolution was the latest legislative move by Democrats, after an earlier measure calling for an April 1 target for withdrawing most combat forces from Iraq, and a previous unsuccessful attempt to link a withdrawal timeline with war funding.

However, noted war critic and Democrat John Murtha plans to offer an amendment to the 2008 defense appropriations bill calling for "an immediate and orderly redeployment" of U.S. troops beginning by the end of this year.

Murtha's plan, which would not set any deadline for completing a withdrawal, also calls for the president to give Congress a comprehensive regional stability plan for the Middle East, and a detailed description of the projected U.S. military force presence in and around the region for a five year period beginning in October.

The House is set to debate the defense measure next week, but passage is not expected until after the August summer Congressional recess, at which time Congress will also consider another $142 billion for military needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.