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Forum and wire reports, Published April 26 2007

House passes pullout

WASHINGTON – A sharply divided House brushed aside a veto threat Wednesday and passed legislation that would order President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by Oct. 1.

The 218-208 vote came as the top U.S. commander in Iraq told lawmakers the country remained gripped by violence but was showing some signs of improvement.

Passage puts the bill on track to clear Congress by week’s end and arrive on the president’s desk in coming days as the first binding congressional challenge to Bush’s handling of the conflict now in its fifth year.

“Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear enemy and no clear strategy for success,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Republicans promised to stand squarely behind the president in rejecting what they called a “surrender date” handed to the enemy.

“Al-Qaida will view this as the day the House of Representatives threw in the towel,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

The $124.2 billion bill would fund the war, among other things, but demand troop withdrawals begin on Oct. 1 or sooner if the Iraqi government does not meet certain standards. The bill sets a nonbinding goal of completing the troop pull out by April 1, 2008, allowing for forces conducting certain noncombat missions, such as attacking terrorist networks or training Iraqi forces, to remain.

House and Senate appropriators agreed to the legislation earlier this week. The Senate was expected to clear the measure today, sending it to the president.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., voted for the resolution and its goal of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Pomeroy, who opposed Bush’s escalation of troops, said the U.S. must send a strong signal to the warring Iraqi factions that they must resolve their differences.

Congress has a “moral duty,” if it believes troops are being deployed in ways that aren’t likely to succeed, to send a message in the form of withdrawal goals attached to spending.

“I believe the indefinite escalation of our troops is the wrong direction,” said Pomeroy, who added most North Dakotans and most Americans reject an open-ended escalation of the war at this stage.

“They believe the war has been badly managed by this administration,” he said. “They want a different course.”

“It’s a compromise,” Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota said Wednesday of the bill. “Like anybody else, I’ve got problems with it.”

While the measure doesn’t call for a firm date by which U.S. troops should be out of Iraq, Peterson said he’s “a little uncomfortable” with troop redeployment plans outlined in the bill.

Like many in Congress, Peterson said, voters in his 7th District “want us out” of Iraq. The Detroit Lakes Democrat, who represents much of western Minnesota, said he supports the measure even though he wanted a more flexible troop withdrawal plan.

“I think our caucus is responding to what people are saying, and I understand that, but I also have some concerns that if we don’t do this right that we’re going to cause a lot of problems, too.”

Tucked in the massive spending bill are other appropriations. Upper Midwestern lawmakers led efforts to include $3.5 billion in relief to farmers and ranchers whose suffered from droughts and other natural disasters.

Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the aid would be similar to previous federal disaster relief, allowing for quick payments.

While Bush was confident the bill would ultimately fail because Democrats lacked the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, he kept up pressure on lawmakers. On the same day as the House vote, the president dispatched his Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and other senior defense officials to Capitol Hill to make his case: Additional forces recently sent to Iraq are yielding mixed results and the strategy needs more time to work.

Petraeus told reporters sectarian killings in Baghdad were only a third of what they were in January, before Bush began sending in additional U.S. forces.