Determined to challenge President Bush, Senate Democrats are drafting legislation to limit the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq, effectively revoking the broad authority Congress granted in 2002, officials said Thursday.
While these officials said the precise wording of the measure remains unsettled, one draft would restrict American troops in Iraq to combating al-Qaida, training Iraqi army and police forces, maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity, and otherwise proceeding with the withdrawal of combat forces.
The officials, Democratic aides and others familiar with private discussions, spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying rank-and-file senators had not yet been briefed on the effort. They added, though, that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is expected to present the proposal to fellow Democrats early next week for their consideration.
The plan is to attempt to add the measure to anti-terrorism legislation that is scheduled to be on the Senate floor next week and the week following.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, declined to discuss the deliberations, saying only, "No final decisions have been made on how to proceed."
The decision to try to limit the military mission marks the next move in what Reid and other Senate war critics have said will be a multistep effort to force a change in Bush's strategy and eventually force an end to U.S. participation in the nearly 4-year-old war.
Earlier efforts to pass a nonbinding measure critical of Bush's decision to deploy 21,500 additional troops ended in gridlock after Senate Republicans blocked votes on two separate measures.
New approach from war critics
The emerging Senate plan differs markedly from an approach favored by critics of the war in the House, where a nonbinding measure passed last week.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects the next challenge to Bush's war policies to come in the form of legislation requiring the Pentagon to adhere to strict training and readiness standards in the case of troops ticketed for the war zone.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the leading advocate of that approach, has said it would effectively deny Bush the ability to proceed with the troop buildup that has been partially implemented since he announced it in January.
Some Senate Democrats have been privately critical of that approach, saying it would have virtually no chance of passing and could easily backfire in the face of Republican arguments that it would deny reinforcements to troops already in the war zone.
Several Senate Democrats have called in recent days for revoking the original authorization that Bush sought and won from Congress in the months before the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
That measure authorized the president to use the armed forces "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate ... to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and to enforce relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Under the presumption of WMDs
At the time the world body had passed resolutions regarding Iraq's presumed effort to develop weapons of mass destruction.
In a speech last week, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "I am working on legislation to repeal that authorization and replace it with a much narrower mission statement for our troops in Iraq."
He added that Congress should make clear what the mission of our troops is: to responsibly draw down, while continuing to combat terrorists, train Iraqis and respond to emergencies.
"We should make equally clear what their mission is not: to stay in Iraq indefinitely and get mired in a savage civil war," said Biden, a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate.
Along with Biden, officials said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a small group of key Democrats were involved in the effort to draft legislation, with leadership aides playing a role.