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Politics

Vote cements divide on Iraq

By WES ALLISON
Published April 26, 2007


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WASHINGTON - Hours before the House of Representatives narrowly passed a $124-billion bill to fund the war in Iraq, the commander of the multinational forces there delivered a classified briefing to Congress.

The response by Republicans and Democrats to remarks by Army Gen. David Petraeus reflects the deep partisan divide over the spending bill, which urges President Bush to withdraw U.S. forces by next April - or earlier if the fledgling Iraqi government fails to meet political and military benchmarks.

It passed 218-208. Most Democrats voted for it; Republicans, overwhelmingly, voted against it. The Senate is expected to pass the bill by week's end, and the president has promised to veto it.

Throughout the weeks of debate, both sides have used Petraeus' previous statements about the ups and downs facing the American mission in Iraq to bolster their arguments. Wednesday was no different.

Murders in Baghdad are down, Petraeus said, and residents of Anbar province are turning against al-Qaida terrorists operating there. That's the good news.

But car bombings continue to bedevil U.S. troops and Iraqis alike, the general said. Al-Qaida terrorists, Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents are all still deadly. And the Iraqi government is far from a government of national unity.

Asked repeatedly about the spending bill, the president's insistence on staying put, and whether the Iraqi government needs more stick and less carrot in the form of political and military benchmarks for progress, Petraeus demurred.

"I'm not going to get into the minefield of discussions about various legislative proposals," he said. "I don't think that's something that military commanders should get into."

But at dueling Democratic and Republican news conferences after Petraeus' closed-door meeting with the House, it seemed as if the members had attended different briefings.

 On how the war is going, and whether the recent surge of U.S. troops to Baghdad is working:

Democrats: Badly. And it is clear peace will not be achieved militarily.

"This briefing reinforced our view that the solution in Iraq is a political solution," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear enemy and no clear strategy for success."

Republicans: Tough, but not so bad. "Considering where we are, I think the general feels good about the progress thus far in the reinforcements that are there, in the performance of the Iraqi troops," said Minority Leader John Boehner, D-Ohio.

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, added that the Iraqi military is making progress, and Iraqis soon may replace some Americans.

On how the bill's timetable for withdrawal and benchmarks for the Iraqi government may affect conditions in Iraq:

Democrats: Positively. "Our belief that we must hold the Iraqis accountable for achieving real progress and establish a timetable for a responsible deployment of American forces was also reinforced" by the briefing, Hoyer said.

Republicans: Negatively. "I believe generally what was said by the general and others is that that would not be helpful to his cause, and, quite frankly, went on to say that it would be - it would hurt the very cause that we seek to win there," Boehner said.

On how the debate in Congress might affect conditions in Iraq:

Democrats: It's helpful. Hoyer said he asked Petraeus about recent comments by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the congressional debate warns the Iraqi government that American patience and resources aren't unlimited. "It seemed to me that Gen. Petraeus certainly did not disagree," Hoyer said.

Republican: It's harmful. "One thing that he reminded us was, this is a test of wills and he admonished us, reminded us that what we say to the world, to our adversaries and our allies, is listened to by the other side," Hunter said.

On the biggest threat to U.S. forces and stability in Iraq:

Democrats: Homegrown insurgents and the rampant violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

"Gen. Petraeus made it very clear that the sectarian violence was the most disruptive element," Hoyer said.

Republicans: Al-Qaida, the shadowy terrorist group responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and whose involvement with Iraq - later disproved - was cited by President Bush as a key reason to invade four years ago. Iran also is causing trouble.

"Al-Qaida, he made clear, continues to make this the central front in their war with us," Boehner said. "And I would remind everyone that we didn't start this war with al-Qaida, they started it. ... And they are the major foe that we face in Iraq today."

Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or 202463-0577.

Fast Facts:

How they voted

In a 218-208 vote the House passed legislation that would order President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by Oct. 1. A "yes" vote is a vote to pass the bill. Voting yes were 216 Democrats and two Republicans. Voting no were 13 Democrats and 195 Republicans.

NO

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville

Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota

YES

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa

[Last modified April 26, 2007, 02:02:54]


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