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Senate Democrats Vow Fresh Round Of Iraq Votes In Bid To Show Voters They Haven't Given Up

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday the Senate will face another round of votes on the Iraq war before the July Fourth recess, a strategy intended to show that Democrats are not giving up on efforts to bring troops home.

While the measures are unlikely to pass, the announcement comes as party leaders are under fire by many liberal supporters for passing legislation that funds the war through September.

``We're going to hold the president's feet to the fire,'' Reid, D-Nev., told reporters after emerging from a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats.

Under Reid's plan, the Senate will cast separate votes on whether to cut off funding for combat next year, order troop withdrawals within four months, impose stricter standards on the length of combat tours and rescind congressional authorization for the Iraqi invasion.

The measures likely will be offered as amendments to the 2008 defense authorization bill, a measure that approves some $649 billion in military spending.

Reid and other congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, planned to meet with President Bush on Wednesday to discuss security issues in the Middle East. According to aides, the bipartisan meeting was expected to focus on Iran.

The legislative proposals will probably fall short of the 60 votes needed to pass controversial legislation under Senate rules. Many GOP members say they are willing to wait until September before they call for change, giving the president's new strategy of Iraq a chance to work.

The proposal to cut off money for U.S. combat is particularly far fetched. Many leading Democrats, including Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., oppose the drastic move because it would be seen as Democrats turning their backs on the troops.

Despite the proposals' dim prospects, the staged votes will refocus debate on Capitol Hill on an issue where voters have typically favored Democrats over Republicans. It also forces GOP members to put themselves on the record as either supporting a politically unpopular war or breaking with their president.

``I think the ground is going to continue to shift,'' said Levin. ``I think that by September if not earlier, enough Republicans will be joining us to change course in Iraq. And if there's enough Republicans joining us, the administration will see that handwriting on the wall.''

Last month, Democrats helped push through legislation funding the war for another four months, triggering a backlash from liberal voters who helped Democrats take control of Congress in the November elections. Reid and other party leaders said they didn't have a choice.

Holding a razor thin majority _ 51-49 in the Senate _ Democrats were unable to override Bush's veto. Of the 51 senators who caucus with the Democrats, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., was unable to vote due to an illness and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., sided with Bush.

Reid spoke Tuesday on the phone with a group of liberal bloggers he acknowledged helped drive the anti-war debate.

``I understand their disappointment,'' Reid said. ``We raised the bar too high.''

In testimony on Capitol Hill, U.S. officials said they were concerned Baghdad was not taking advantage of the security provided by American troops and is dragging its feet on reaching a lasting political settlement.

While the officials cautioned it was still early in the campaign and expressed hope the Iraqis would do more in coming months, their assessment of a slow-moving _ and often stubborn _ government suggested there were limits to the effectiveness of President Bush's troop buildup in Baghdad.

``We're certainly not pleased, at this point, that the space that the military has bought _ the space and time that the military has bought for the Iraqis themselves to take on the hard questions of reconciliation _ that they haven't yet used this opportunity,'' said Mark Kimmitt, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East.

Kimmitt added that political reconciliation ``at the end of the day, is going to spell success _ not the military victories but the civilian victories.''

Michael Vickers, nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said he was concerned about a lack of political will.

``One of the worrisome signs right now besides the lack of progress on the essential political front is that sectarian identities are hardening and continue to harden and therefore the link between military operations and political outcome is not having the full effect at this point in time that we would all hope for,'' Vickers said.

Republicans said they were frustrated by the pace of progress.

``The military is doing their job,'' said Sen. John Warner, R-Va. ``The missing elements are that the government is not taking advantage of such increased security as brought about by the surge, and is failing in my judgment to exercise the degree of sovereignty necessary to begin pull Iraq out of this abyss it is sinking into.''
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