Democrats To Demand Troops Leave Iraq If Benchmarks Not Met

Thursday, March 1st 2007, 2:49 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Democratic leaders have coalesced around legislation that would require troops to come home from Iraq within six months if that country's leaders fail to meet promises to help reduce violence there, party officials said Thursday.

The plan would retain a Democratic proposal prohibiting the deployment to Iraq of troops with insufficient rest or training or who already have served there for more than a year. Under the plan, such troops could only be sent to Iraq if President Bush waives those standards and reports to Congress each time.

The proposal is the latest attempt by Democrats to resolve deep divisions within the party on how far to go to scale back U.S. involvement in Iraq. Rep. James Moran said the latest version has the support of party leadership and said he believes it is final and has the best chance at attracting broad support.

``We're going to report out'' a war spending bill ``that's responsive to the will of the voters last November and brings our troops home as soon and safely as possible,'' Moran, D-Va., said in an interview Thursday.

Moran, a member of the House committee that oversees military spending, said the plan was discussed in a closed-door meeting of committee Democrats on Thursday.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declined to confirm the details and or say whether Pelosi backs the plan. But he said: ``We have said we want to make sure our troops have all the training and equipment they need and that the Iraqi government must meet the benchmarks President Bush endorsed.''

Bush said the Iraqis had promised to meet certain goals when he offered to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq. For example, the Iraqis pledged to spend more money on reconstruction and reach a political agreement to share the nation's oil resources.

If the Iraqis fail to live up to their promises, some troops could be left behind under the Democrats' plan to train Iraqi troops or conduct counterterrorism missions, Moran said.

Bush requested $93.4 billion for this year's military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Moran said that as of Thursday, the proposal was on track to add an extra $1 billion to step up efforts in Afghanistan. Money also would be added to improve health care for veterans and help wounded active-duty troops, as well as provide relief for hurricane victims.

The legislation also would require Bush to seek congressional approval for any military operations in Iran.

The Senate, meanwhile, could begin floor debate on Iraq as early as next week. Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., have proposed a resolution that would call for combat troops to come home by March 2008.

As Democrats finalized their spending plan for this year, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten told Senate Republican leaders that the administration will need additional funding to pay for the influx of troops to Iraq.

The Pentagon initially estimated the 21,500 troops would cost $5.6 billion through Oct. 1. But 6,000 more personnel will be needed to provide support to the combat units, according to GOP aides.

The administration also might amend its funding request in order to provide more money for Afghanistan.

The White House is expected to offer to trim other parts of the 2007 war spending request such as the controversial V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft to offset the money needed. Bolten did not offer a specific figure for the support troops, the aides said.

Also on Thursday, an influential Senate Democrat floated the idea of cutting $20 billion from Bush's request for military operations next year in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to be swiftly overridden by his colleagues.

The trial balloon floated by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad would have trimmed Bush's $142 billion war budget for 2008 by about one-seventh in keeping with cost estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Conrad's idea would have applied to the next budget year beginning Oct. 1 _ a separate issue from the debate over Bush's $100 billion request for immediate supplemental war funding.

But it raised concerns among Democrats sensitive to any accusations of shorting funding for troops in battle.

``Our caucus feels strongly that we should go with the president's numbers'' on 2008 war costs, Conrad said.