Washington: In a direct challenge to President George W. Bush, Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled legislation on 8 March requiring the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq by late 2008.
The House leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the deadline would be added to legislation providing nearly $100 billion the Bush administration has requested for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She told reporters the measure would mark the first time the new Democratic-controlled Congress has established a “date certain” for the end of US combat in the four-year-old war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,100 US troops and many thousands of Iraqis.
Republican David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the proposal would bring an “orderly and responsible close” to American participation in what he called an Iraqi “civil war”.
According to an explanation of the measure distributed by Democratic aides, the timetable for withdrawal would be accelerated if the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not meet goals for providing for Iraq’s security.
Democrats won control of Congress last November in elections shadowed by public opposition to the war and have vowed since taking power to challenge Bush’s policies.
Pelosi made her announcement as Senate Democrats reviewed a different approach, a measure that would set a goal of a troop withdrawal by March of 2008. Majority Leader Harry Reid called a closed-door meeting of the rank-and-file Democrats to consider the measure.
In the House, Pelosi and the leadership have struggled in recent days to come up with an approach on the war that would satisfy liberals reluctant to vote for continued funding without driving away more moderate Democrats unwilling to be seen as tying the hands of military commanders.
The decision to impose conditions on the war risks a major confrontation with the Bush administration and its Republican allies in Congress.
But without a unified party, the Democratic leadership faced the possibility of a highly embarrassing defeat when the spending legislation reaches a vote, likely later this month.
To make the overall measure more attractive politically, Democrats also intend to add $1.2 billion to Bush’s request for military operations in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is expected to mount a spring offensive.