Despite White House Warnings, House Democrats Poised To Tie Funding To Troop Withdrawal

Monday, March 19th 2007, 7:55 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush on Monday marked the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, which has stretched longer with higher costs than the White House ever expected.

Bush planned to make a statement on the war in an appearance in the Roosevelt Room.

The president also was to meet with his National Security Council on the war and hold a closed-circuit television conference call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.

Entering its fifth year, the war has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier Monday staunchly defended going to war but acknowledged the administration likely erred by failing initially to send enough troops to quell the civil strife that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Rice said that patience still is required and asserted anew that the Iraqis are making headway in completing the transition toward democracy.

She appeared on a host of network morning news shows amid fresh White House warnings against plans by congressional Democrats to pass legislation effectively forcing the withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008. That means a standoff over war funding is looming, just as the battle to secure Baghdad intensifies and the war enters its fifth year.

Asked on CBS's ``The Early Show'' to say what the administration could have done better, Rice replied, ``I don't know. When we look back over time we will know the answer to that question.''

But she did say the United States, early on, ``might have looked to a more localized, more decentralized approach to reconstruction.

``... And I do believe that the kind of counterinsurgency strategy in which Gen. (David) Petraeus is now pursuing, in which we have enough forces to clear an area and hold it, so that building and governance can emerge, is the best strategy. And that probably was not pursued in the very beginning.''

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a persistent critic of the war strategy but a supporter of the war itself, has repeatedly complained that not enough U.S. troops were placed on the ground in the weeks and months following the March 2003 invasion.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., also appearing on CBS, maintained that ``the only way you end sectarian violence is to occupy a country or have a decentralized government.

``You've got to give these people (the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds) breathing room like we did in Bosnia,'' Biden said. ``You've got to separate these people. This is a failed strategy.''

On Sunday, President Bush's national security adviser said that House Democrats will assure failure in Iraq and waste the sacrifice of U.S. soldiers with their legislation to remove troops. The House's war spending bill includes a troop withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008.

Lawmakers know the president will veto the measure, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said, making the exercise a ``charade.''

``If we do a premature withdrawal, then what we have is a situation where the Iraqi forces cannot handle the situation, which is the case now,'' Hadley said. ``We have Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists who will destabilize the neighbors and attack us.''

Democratic lawmakers say the public put them in charge of Congress to demand more progress in Iraq _ and to start getting the U.S. troops out.

The timeline for troop withdrawal under the House bill would speed up if the Iraqi government cannot meet its own benchmarks for providing security, allocating oil revenues and other essential steps. The administration opposes setting such timelines.

The House plan appears to have little chance of getting through the Senate, where Democrats have a slimmer majority. Even if it did, Bush has promised to veto it. But the White House is aggressively trying to stop it anyway, fearful of the message the world will hear if the House approves a binding bill to end the war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday the House bill could make it impossible for military commanders to do their work.

``Frankly, as I read it, the House bill is more about withdrawal regardless of the circumstances on the ground than it is about trying to produce a positive outcome,'' Gates said.

Congressional Democrats, put in power in large part because of anti-war public sentiment, are trying to use their power of the purse to force action. So far, Iraq's leadership is struggling to meet the major benchmarks that it has pledged to the United States.

The impending House vote concerns a $124 billion spending bill, $95.5 billion of which is targeted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of the other money is for unrelated domestic programs, which also has angered the White House.

Hadley spoke on ABC's ``This Week'' and CNN's ``Late Edition.'' Gates spoke on CBS' ``Face the Nation.'' Murtha spoke on CNN's ``Late Edition.''

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