U.S. Senate pushes for speedier handover in Iraq


  • World
  • Wednesday, 16 Nov 2005

By Vicki Allen and Charles Aldinger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Showing mounting discontent among Republicans over the Iraq war, the U.S. Senate resolved on Tuesday that Iraqis should start taking the lead in their own security next year to allow a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops. 

But the Republican-led Senate rejected Democrats' demand for Republican President George W. Bush to submit a plan and an estimated timetable to withdraw U.S. forces, a step Bush has vehemently opposed. 

The Senate's 79 to 19 vote came days after Bush, facing waning support for the war and the lowest job approval ratings of his presidency, launched an aggressive counteroffensive against Democratic critics who say he misled the country by hyping prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify the 2003 invasion. 

The Senate demand, and with it the stirrings of Republican revolt, was another blow to Bush, who is reeling over a string of setbacks including his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, controversy over Supreme Court nominees and high gas prices. 

The Senate resolution said 2006 "should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq." 

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada called the resolution a rejection of Bush's Iraq policy. 

"Today you saw a vote of no confidence in the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. Democrats and Republicans acknowledged that staying the course is not the way to go." 

The Republican resolution, sponsored by Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia, largely mirrored a Democratic resolution, except for Democrats' key requirement for a withdrawal plan. 

Warner said the Senate resolution was to declare to Iraqis, "We mean business, we have done our share, now the challenge is up to you." 

Senators defeated the Democrats' resolution 58-40 before backing the other. 

Texas Republican John Cornyn said the Senate "chose not the cut-and- run option but the stay-and-fight option -- and to win -- and then to bring our troops home as soon as possible." 

DEFENDING 'THE MISSION' 

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was pressed by reporters on whether the vote signaled a growing impatience with the Iraq war similar to that sparked more than three decades ago by the U.S. war in Vietnam. 

"Oh, I wouldn't go down that road myself," Rumsfeld, who has rejected any direct comparison between the two wars, told a Pentagon news conference. 

Bush has argued that setting a timetable for pulling out the nearly 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq would send a green light to insurgents. 

"While the American people understandably want to know when our forces can leave Iraq, I believe they do not want to leave until the mission is complete," Rumsfeld said. 

The resolution's purpose is "to clarify and recommend changes" in U.S. policy in Iraq, and it requires progress reports to Congress every 90 days. 

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska and a member of the Senate foreign relations and intelligence oversight committees, said the resolution gave Congress more of an oversight role in the progress of the war and suggested it should have acted earlier. 

"We in the Congress also should be assigned some blame. We let this all unfold right in front of our eyes with very little questioning, very little oversight. I think it was a straight up-or-down Republican deal," he said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he opposed the resolution on the grounds it would send the wrong signal to the Iraqi insurgency. 

Referring to mid-term elections next year, he said its passage "speaks to a bit of nervousness about the public perception of how the war's going in terms of '06 elections." 

The Republican resolution was attached to a bill authorizing $491.6 billion in defense programs that the Senate passed unanimously. 

Bush has twice in recent days ripped into Democrats who have accused the Republican president and other top administration officials of manipulating prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were found. 

Rumsfeld said that flawed intelligence offered by the Bush administration on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was based on "honest mistakes." 

(Additional reporting by David Morgan) 

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