Iraq: Capitol Hill's War Of Words

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Fierce election-year debate on Iraq spilled over into a second week on Capitol Hill with Senate Democrats lining up behind proposals to start U.S. troop withdrawals and Republicans chastising them for espousing what they characterize as a "cut-and-run" strategy.

In what Republicans and Democrats alike are billing as perhaps the Senate's largest debate on Iraq since the war began in spring 2003, the Senate is to take up at least one of the resolutions Tuesday and vote on it sometime this week.

"This amendment effectively calls on the United States to cut and run from Iraq. Let me be clear: retreat is not a solution. Our national security requires us to follow through on our commitments," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

"Artificial deadlines are not the solution — and those calling for an early withdrawal of American troops from Iraq utterly fail to understand the potentially catastrophic implications of their proposal," Frist argued. "Cutting and running is bad policy that threatens our national security and poses unacceptable risks to Americans."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., disputed Frist's characterization of the Democrats' nonbinding resolution on Iraq and stressed that it would not set a firm deadline by which all forces must be out of the war zone.

"The administration's policy to date, that we'll be there for as long as Iraq needs us, will result in Iraq's depending on us longer," said Levin, top-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. "Three-and-a-half years into the conflict, we should tell the Iraqis that the American security blanket is not permanent."

The Levin resolution urges - but does not require - the administration to begin "a phased redeployment of U.S. forces" this year. It also calls on the administration to give Congress by year's end its plan for "continued redeployment" after 2006.

Additionally, the resolution would call for American troops, which have been focused on combat operations in Iraq, to more quickly transition to "a limited mission of training and logistic support of Iraqi security forces, protection of U.S. personnel and facilities, and targeting counterterrorism activities."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada backs the resolution, and his aides say they expect 38 to 40 Democrats and a few Republicans to vote for the symbolic statement. However, they don't expect to get the 51 votes needed to attach the resolution to an annual military bill.

Even as the GOP leadership criticized the resolution, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called it "a very serious-minded approach." He declined to endorse it but nonetheless promised to give it careful consideration.

Tuesday, debate is expected to begin on the Levin resolution and another resolution – which includes a deadline – is to be introduced. Its sponsors, Democratic Senators John Kerry, Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer, want most U.S. troops out of Iraq by July 1, 2007.