House Democrats unveil plan for U.S. troop pullout from Iraq

By Noam Levey and Joel Havemann

Los Angeles Times

March 8, 2007

House Democratic leaders today unveiled legislation to start withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq as soon as July 1 and conclude their removal no later than August of next year.

Troops could remain, but they would be restricted to engaging in counterterrorism activities, training Iraqi troops and protecting Iraq's borders. Maintaining order in Baghdad and other cities embroiled in sectarian violence would be off-limits.

As long as U.S. troops were present, the Democratic bill would provide President Bush with the funds he seeks to equip them. It would also beef up spending for the care of wounded soldiers and veterans.

The bill provides "a timeline for bringing U.S. participation in Iraq's civil war to an orderly close," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wisc.). Obey said he hoped that his committee could complete work on the legislation next week and that the full House could pass the bill the following week.

It will be an uphill struggle.

The Democrats, who regained control of the House this year after 12 years in the minority, can count on little or no Republican support. Some Democrats do not believe Congress should legislate an end to the war in Iraq, and some want the United States to pull out sooner. A group of liberal House Democrats put forward their own bill today, one that would bring all the troops home by the end of this year.

The Democratic leadership's legislation, formulated only with great difficulty, reflects two competing forces: the desire to end the war and the fear of appearing to be undermining the U.S. servicemen and women already on the ground in Iraq.

At the same time that it would withdraw U.S. troops from combat roles in Iraq, the leadership bill would beef up the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan, not Iraq, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, that gave sanctuary to the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Obey said the leadership bill would ensure that the United States was "fighting the right war in the right place against the people who attacked us and gave Al Qaeda sanctuary."

Under the complicated timeline in the leadership bill, two dates would be key.

By July 1, 2007, Bush must certify that the Iraqi government was making progress toward two goals: training its army to take charge of the struggle against sectarian violence, and passing civil laws such as one governing the operation of the Iraqi oil fields and the distribution of the profits. If Bush could not certify, the U.S. troop drawdown would begin immediately and conclude by the end of the year.

If he could certify, he would face another deadline: Oct. 1, 2007. That's when Bush would have to certify that the Iraqi government had reached its two goals. If he could not, the troop drawdown would begin immediately and be finished by the end of March 2008. Even if he could certify, the withdrawal would begin next year on March 1 and end by Aug. 31.