US House sets date that Bush has vowed to veto leaving Iraq by Oct 1?

Leaving Iraq by Oct 1?

Deadline for start of troop pullout is part of narrow vote for $188b war Bill.

A DEMOCRAT-controlled US Congress has set in motion a pullout from war-ravaged Iraq, a move that President George W. Bush has vowed to veto.

The House of Representatives narrowly approved on a 218-208 vote a US$124 billion (S$188 billion) emergency spending Bill for the war, but critically included in it an Oct 1 deadline for American troops to start withdrawing from Iraq.

It is the first binding congressional challenge to Mr Bush’s handling of the conflict, and was also expected to be passed by the Senate late yesterday. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi played up the thousands of casualties endured by US troops and the “scores of thousands” of Iraqi lives lost, adding that the war would “cost well over a trillion dollars if it ended today”.

“The sacrifices borne by our troops and their families demand more than the blank cheques the President is asking for, for a war without end,” she said. She urged Mr Bush “to sign the Bill so that we can focus on winning the war against terrorism, which is the real threat to the American people”.

But Mr Bush looks certain to prevail because Democrats lacked the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Significantly, it will be the President’s second veto in over six years of office – perhaps a harbinger of the gridlock between the White House and lawmakers for the remaining 18 months of his presidency.

“Tonight, the House of Representatives voted for failure in Iraq and the President will veto its Bill,” White House spokesman Dana Perino said.

She added that Mr Bush would “work with the congressional leadership on a clean Bill that funds our troops while respecting the judgment of our military commanders and helping ensure the safety of the American people”.

But the Democrats are in no mood to negotiate.

Since the new Congress was sworn in this January, several senior government and military officials have also been summoned for hostile hearings on Iraq.

The Democrats have also been boosted by the release of a poll that showed a majority of Americans side with them on the issue. They believe victory in Iraq is no longer possible.

The poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal suggested that only 37 per cent of Americans believe that Congress should not set a deadline for troops withdrawal, compared to 55 per cent who support a timetable.

However, the Congress Bill does not set a binding deadline for full withdrawal, stipulating March 31 only as a “target”.

The Bill allows some US troops to remain to train Iraqi forces, protect American interests and conduct limited counter-terrorism operations.

On the same day as the House vote, the President dispatched his Iraq commander, General David Petraeus, and other senior defence officials to Congress to appeal for more time.

Gen Petraeus told reporters later that sectarian killings in Baghdad were only a third of what they were in January, before Mr Bush began sending in additional US forces.

He added that progress in the troubled western Anbar province was “breathtaking”, and that he thought Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was “doing his best” at leading the country.

Legislators, however, dug in their heels for a protracted fight on a thorny issue that has also become a focus for candidates vying for the presidency next year.

Even Republican Senator and outspoken Iraq war supporter John McCain distanced himself from Mr Bush when he formally announced his bid for the White House on Wednesday.

The United States “must never repeat” the mistakes made in the conflict, Mr McCain said.

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