WASHINGTON — Defying a fresh veto threat, the Democratic-controlled Congress will pass legislation within days requiring the start of a troop withdrawal from Iraq by Oct. 1, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday.
The legislation also sets a goal of a complete pullout by April 1, 2008, he said.
In remarks prepared for delivery, Reid said that under the legislation the troops that remain after next April 1 could only train Iraqi security units, protect U.S forces and conduct "targeted counter-terror operations."
Bush reaffirms rejecting timetable
Reid spoke a few hours after Bush said he will reject any legislation along the lines of what Democrats will pass. "I will strongly reject an artificial timetable (for) withdrawal and/or Washington politicians trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their job," the president said.
Bush made his comments to reporters in the Oval Office as he met with senior military leaders, including his top general in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus.
Taken together, Reid's speech and Bush's comments inaugurated a week of extraordinary confrontation between the president and the new Democratic-controlled Congress over a war that has taken the lives of more than 3,200 U.S. troops.
Reid drew criticism from Bush and others last week when he said the war in Iraq had been lost.
The Nevada Democrat did not repeat the assertion in his prepared speech, saying that "The military mission has long since been accomplished. The failure has been political. It has been policy. It has been presidential."
Reid said that in addition to the timetable, the legislation will establish standards for the Iraqi government to meet in terms of "making progress on security, political reconciliation and improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis who have suffered so much."
The measure also would launch diplomatic, economic and political policy changes, Reid said.
Negotiators for the House and Senate arranged a late-afternoon meeting to ratify the timetable that Reid laid out. The demand for a change in course will be attached to a funding bill that is needed to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Reid said Bush was in "a state of denial" over the war, and likened him to another commander in chief four decades ago. "I remember when President Johnson, trying to save his political legacy, initiated the first of many surges into Vietnam in 1965," he said.
Reid said thousands more U.S. troops died in Vietnam as a result. Now, he said, Bush "is the only person who fails to face this war's reality - and that failure is devastating not just for Iraq's future, but for ours."
Reid also challenged Bush to present an alternative if, as expected, he vetoes the Democratic legislation.
The president said that Petraeus will go to Capitol Hill to tell lawmakers what's going right in Iraq - and what's not.
"It's a tough time, as the general will tell Congress," Bush said. Still, the president insisted, progress is being made in Iraq as more U.S. troops head into the country to provide security.
There is no doubt that Republicans in Congress have the votes to sustain Bush's threatened veto.
That would require Congress to approve a second funding bill quickly to avoid significant disruptions in military operations.
Bush 'odd man out'
Reid's speech blended an attack on Bush, an appeal for patience to the anti-war voters who last fall gave Democrats control, and an attempt to shape the post-veto debate.
"I understand the restlessness that some feel. Many who voted for change in November anticipated dramatic and immediate results in January," he said.
"But like it or not, George W. Bush is still the commander in chief - and this is his war," Reid said.
Reid said Democrats have sought Republican support for their attempts to force Bush to change course. "Only the president is the odd man out, and he is making the task even harder by demanding absolute fidelity from his party."
Looking beyond Bush's expected veto, he said, "If the president disagrees, let him come to us with an alternative. Instead of sending us back to square one with a veto, some tough talk and nothing more, let him come to the table in the spirit of bipartisanship that Americans demand and deserve."
Reid noted disapprovingly that in a speech last week, Bush repeatedly said there were signs of progress in Iraq in the wake of a troop increase he ordered last winter.
"The White House transcript says the president made those remarks in the state of Michigan. I believe he made them in the state of denial," said Reid.
Democratic officials have also said they intend to add a minimum wage increase to the war funding bill. Key lawmakers announced agreement late last week on a package of business tax breaks to accompany the boost in the wage floor, which would total $2.10 cents an hour in three equal installments.
Apart from the clash over war policy, Bush has pledged to veto the funding bill if Democrats go ahead with plans to include billions of dollars in domestic spending.
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