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Iraq Transition

Democrats want Iraq pullout to begin quickly

Levin: Proposal is not a 'timetable'

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Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, says the U.S. cannot sustain an open-ended commitment in Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Democrats offered an amendment Monday that would demand that a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq begin this year.

The plan, the product of weeks of intense negotiations between Senate Democrats and Minority Leader Harry Reid, is designed to give Democrats a unified position on Iraq as the November midterm elections near.

The amendment would:

  • Begin the "phased redeployment" or pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2006.
  • Require the administration to submit a plan by the end of 2006 for continued phased redeployment beyond 2006.
  • Transform the role of troops left in the country to a "limited mission" of training and logistical support for Iraqi security forces, protection of U.S. personnel and facilities, and targeted counterterrorism operations.
  • The Democrats' plan will be offered to a major defense bill that the Senate took up last week.

    President Bush, speaking at a Senate Republican fundraising dinner, said that he welcomed the debate but vowed that there would be "no early withdrawal" from Iraq "so long as we run the Congress and occupy the White House."

    "I want to remind you of the consequences if those who want to withdraw from Iraq happen to prevail in the debate," he said. "An early withdrawal would be a defeat for the United States of America. An early withdrawal would embolden the terrorists. Talk about a deadline before we've done the job sends chills throughout the spines of Iraqi citizens, who are wondering whether or not the United States has the capacity to keep its word.

    "An early withdrawal would embolden al Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden. An early withdrawal before we've completed the mission would say to the United States military, 'Your sacrifices have gone in vain.' "

    Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is the ranking member on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, said Monday during a news conference that the amendment would not establish a "timetable" for withdrawal, but would signal to the Iraqis that the U.S. deployment is not open-ended.

    "Our amendment does not address the speed or the pace of the phased redeployment that we call for. In other words, our amendment does not establish a timetable for redeployment," Levin said. "It does urge that a phased redeployment begin this year, partly as a way of moving away from an open-ended commitment and a way of avoiding Iraqi dependency on a U.S. security blanket."

    Levin introduced the amendment along with Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Dianne Feinstein of California, and Ken Salazar of Colorado. Reed said the amendment will put the burden on the Iraqis to bring their country together.

    Reed said the amendment would put the burden on the Iraqis to bring their country together.

    "It's time for the president to send a clear message to Iraqi political leaders: Act now for your own self-interest, step up, revise the constitution, and together we can go forward to secure a more stable Iraq," Reed said.

    "We are midway through 2006. It's time to begin the transition."

    Feinstein said Sunday she supported an amendment because the commitment in Iraq is unsustainable.

    "Three years and three months into the war, with all of the losses, the insurgency, the burgeoning civil war that's taking place -- what was it, seven bombings in Baghdad yesterday? -- an open-ended time commitment is no longer sustainable," Feinstein said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." (Watch senators scrap over troop pullout -- 4:48)

    "I don't think it's sustainable from the military point of view in terms of troop commitments. I don't think it's sustainable in terms of what Americans think about the war," Feinstein said.

    The Democratic leadership's goal was to craft a resolution that would not only illustrate a united Democratic front despite divisions in the party, but also get some Republican support.

    "There is some skittishness about drawing a hard-and-fast timeline, but there is a feeling that it is time to end this open-ended commitment," a senior Democratic aide said.

    "We want to do this to show we're not shying away from the Iraq debate, but we want talk about it on our terms, not theirs," the aide said.

    Sens. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and Barbara Boxer, D-California, plan to offer a differing amendment, probably on Tuesday, which would call for a hard deadline to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq by July 1, 2007.

    Last week, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, introduced legislation he said was taken from a proposal by Kerry. It called for Bush to agree with the Iraqi government on a schedule for withdrawal of combat troops by December 31, 2006. It failed on a 93-6 vote.

    This week's Senate debate follows a debate the House of Representatives mounted last week when lawmakers passed 256-153 a nonbinding resolution that rejected an "arbitrary" date for withdrawing from Iraq. Forty-two Democrats voted with the Republican majority, while only three Republicans broke ranks.

    The Republican leadership in the House pushed for the resolution in hopes of portraying Democrats as weak on the war ahead of the November elections.

    Public support for the war has slid for the past year as the U.S. death toll, which topped 2,500 last week, has climbed. A CNN poll released Friday found 54 percent opposed the war, with only 38 percent favoring it.

    A majority of those polled -- 53 percent -- said the United States should set a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq, but they split 47-47 on whether the troops should come home within a year. (Full story)

    CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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