updated 3/8/2007 8:12:47 AM ET 2007-03-08T13:12:47

House Democratic leaders intend to propose legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008, and even earlier if the Iraqi government fails to meet security and other goals, Democratic officials said Wednesday night.

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The conditions, described as tentative until presented to the Democratic rank and file, would be added to legislation providing nearly $100 billion the Bush administration has requested for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the officials said.

The legislation is expected on the floor of the House later this month, and would mark the most direct challenge to date the new Democratic-controlled Congress has posed to the president’s war policies.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office announced plans for a Thursday morning news conference to unveil the measure, without providing any of the details. It said she would be joined by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and other key lawmakers. Murtha is chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Pentagon’s budget and is among the House’s most outspoken opponents of the war.

But Democrats familiar with the emerging legislation said the bill would require President Bush to certify that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was making progress toward providing for his country’s security, allocating its oil revenues and creating a fair system for amending its constitution.

They said if Bush certified the Iraqis were meeting these so-called benchmarks, U.S. combat troops could remain until September of next year. Otherwise, the deadline would move up to the end of 2007.

Tentative language
The officials who described the details did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to speak before the measure is presented to the rank and file. They stressed that the specific provisions in the legislation were tentative pending approval by the caucus.

The legislation also calls for the Pentagon to adhere to its standards for equipping and training U.S. troops sent overseas and for providing time at home between tours of combat.

At the same time, it permits Bush to issue waivers of these standards. Democrats described the waiver provision as an attempt to embarrass the president, but their effect would be to permit the administration to proceed with plans to deploy five additional combat brigades to the Baghdad area over the next few months.

The measure emerged from days of private talks among Democrats following the repudiation of Murtha’s original proposal, which would have required the Pentagon to meet readiness and training standards without the possibility of a waiver.

Murtha said its implementation would have starved the war effort of troops because the Pentagon could not find enough units to meet the standards.

Several moderate Democrats spoke out against it, though. And Republicans sharply attacked it as the abandonment of troops already in the war zone.

Pelosi and the leadership have struggled in recent days to craft legislation that could satisfy liberals reluctant to vote for continued funding of the war, as well as conservative lawmakers unwilling to be seen as tying the hands of military commanders in a time of war.

‘Constructive dialogue’
Several strong opponents of the war issued a statement during the evening saying they “have had a constructive dialogue with members of our party’s leadership. ... However, at this time, we have not reached any final agreement.”

The statement said members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus would go ahead with plans to outline legislation that would allow war funds to be used only for the withdrawal of troops and other limited objectives.

The statement was issued in the name of Reps. Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee and Diane Watson of California; Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

Democrats have also said in recent days they would add money to Bush’s request for military operations in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is expected to mount a spring offensive, as well as for veterans’ health and medical programs for active duty troops at the scandal-scarred Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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