US House Passes Troop Bill, Senate Iraq Vote Expected – Bush Promises Veto

The US House of Representatives passed its much-anticipated bill on Wednesday which provides $124 billion in funding for US troops in Iraq, while also setting a non-binding goal to bring all the troops home from Iraq by March 31, 2008.

The bill calls for troop withdrawal to begin in October 2007 at the latest.

“This terrible chapter in our history must come to an end … enough is enough,” said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.).

On the other side of the chamber, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued, “Every generation of Americans have had their obligation to stand up and protect their country, not just for today but for tomorrow and the next generation. We have a solemn obligation to the American people to finish the job we started.”

The House vote of 218-208 passed mainly along partisan lines, with a Senate vote expected on the bill on Thursday.

The bill sets strict standards for resting, training and equipping US troops, but gives President Bush discretionary powers to waive these standards provided he publicly justifies them. There are also benchmarks set for the Iraqi government to disarm militias, reduce sectarian violence, roll back de-Baathification measures and share oil revenue equally among the regions in Iraq.

If the benchmarks are not being met by July 1, the US would begin to withdraw troops immediately and would bring all soldiers home by the end of the year. However, if the Iraqi government demonstrates that it is meeting the benchmarks, US troop withdrawal would not begin until October, but would still be completed by March 31, 2008.

President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation, having repeatedly rejected calls to set timelines for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said after the vote, “Tonight, the House of Representatives voted for failure in Iraq, and the President will veto its bill.”

The Democrats do not have enough votes in either the House of Representatives or the Senate to override a Presidential veto, and it is unclear what their strategy will be in the event of a veto – apart from proposing a new bill that provides interim funding for the troops, whose funding runs out mid-year. They have ruled out cutting off funding for existing troops in Iraq.

In January, Mr Bush announced a surge of 21,500 US troops to try to reduce the sectarian violence in Iraq. The full contingent of additional troops has not yet hit the ground in Iraq.

Some war-weary Republicans acknowledged that there is a need to see some progress soon from the troop surge. “We need to get some better results from Iraq, both politically, economically and militarily in the foreseeable future,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who voted against the bill.

“How many more suicide bombs must kill American soldiers before this President offers a timeline for our troops to come home?” asked Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), an Iraq war veteran. “How many more military leaders must declare the war will not be won militarily before this president demands that the Iraqis stand up and fight for their country? How many more terrorists will President Bush’s foreign policy breed before he focuses a new strategy, a real strategy? This bill says enough is enough.”

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