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Iraq: Capitol Hill's War Of Words

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.

"We need a deadline for the redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq." say Kerry and Feingold, in a joint statement. "A strong national security policy begins with recognizing that our massive presence in Iraq weakens our security and gives Iraqi politicians a crutch to avoid creating stability in their country."

They argue that "as long as 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq indefinitely, that country will remain what a series of mistakes have made it -- a crucible for the recruitment and development of terrorists determined to fight Americans and an obstacle to an Iraqi government capable of governing and securing its country. Our troops have done their job in Iraq. It is time to redeploy."

Kerry, Feingold and Boxer intend to push for a vote on their resolution, which would require the administration to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007. It would leave in place only U.S. troops essential to training Iraqi security forces, conducting counterterrorism operations and protecting U.S. personnel and facilities.

The Kerry-Feingold-Boxer resolution is expected to be rejected overwhelmingly.

Tuesday's debate comes a week after the GOP-controlled Senate and House soundly rejected timetables for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, back-to-back votes that forced lawmakers in both parties to go on record on the issue less than five months before midterm elections.

As the U.S. death toll and war spending continue to climb, polls show the public increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of the conflict.

Democrats in Congress have long been split over the way ahead in Iraq, and Republicans have sought to highlight those divisions in recent weeks. In control of Congress, the GOP is seeking a political advantage as recent polls show the public favoring Democrats to run the House and Senate.

Last week, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was unable to get her caucus to rally around one position on Iraq. Senate Democrats also spent the week struggling to come up with a "consensus" position.