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Democrats seize on Iraq pullout report

Levin: Bush will use withdrawal as political tool in election

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Democratic Sen. Carl Levin accuses the administration of playing politics with Iraq pullout plans.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats who have called for U.S. troops to start coming home from Iraq said a proposed withdrawal plan reportedly put forward by the top American general there shows their criticism has been on the mark.

President Bush's Republican allies in Congress in recent weeks have criticized Democratic proposals for getting out of Iraq, accusing the opposition party of laying plans to "cut and run" from the war.

But The New York Times, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, reported Sunday that Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, plans to send home about 7,000 of the 127,000 American troops by September without replacing them. More than 20,000 more would leave by the end of 2007, the Times reported.

"Here we have a situation where Democrats, 80 percent of us, voted to say we ought to start reducing our troop presence there -- and again, we got pummeled," Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, told CBS. "And now, it turns out, we're in synch with General Casey."

Military sources told CNN Thursday that Casey was considering pulling 6,000 to 10,000 troops out of Iraq as part of a reduction, but neither the general nor Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would confirm that at a news conference the same day.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki included a U.S. withdrawal among the elements of a national reconciliation plan he outlined Sunday, but the plan sets no specific timetable. (Full story)

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell said lawmakers discussed the situation in Iraq with Casey before votes taken by Congress last week. But he said the point of the debate was that "Congress ought not to be dictating to the generals what the tactics are."

"We want the conditions on the ground and the decisions of our commanders, in conjunction with the new Iraqi democratic government, to dictate the process, not the Congress trying to act like armchair generals," the Kentucky Republican told ABC's "This Week."

Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden said Sunday that a resolution to the situation in Iraq would not come through the military.

"There's guys like me and a lot of others and on the Republican side -- [Sens.] Chuck Hagel and Lindsey Graham, John McCain, across the board -- who realize that this requires a political solution," Biden told CNN's "Late Edition."

Biden cited a need to "purge the militia out of the Iraqi military," to "get the Sunnis to buy in and give them a piece of the oil revenues" and to limit the influence inside Iraq of the country's neighbors.

Six Democrats joined 54 of the Senate's 55 Republicans Thursday in voting against a proposal to begin a limited withdrawal by the end of 2006. The plan was offered as an amendment to next year's Pentagon authorization bill by Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Biden, a possible Democratic presidential candidate and ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Levin's proposal is "exactly what Casey called for." Biden deemed last week's debate "a lot of puffery."

"The reality is, you cannot sustain 130,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely unless you break the volunteer Army by having people go back four and five and six times, so it's inevitable," the Delaware senator said.

Another amendment, backed by Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, would have required a U.S. withdrawal by July 2007. It failed on an 86-13 vote.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives approved a resolution that praised the performance of U.S. troops in the war on terrorism and declared itself opposed to setting an "arbitrary" date for withdrawal.

The GOP leadership in that chamber pushed for the debate in hopes of portraying Democrats as weak ahead of November's midterm congressional elections.

Democrats argue that the administration has mishandled the war, which has now left more than 2,500 American and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, and that a new strategy is needed.

Hagel: People losing patience

With a majority of Americans in recent polls expressing opposition to the war and with Bush's management of the conflict, Levin told "Fox News Sunday" that many in Washington expect a withdrawal to be announced before the elections.

"It shouldn't be a political decision, but it is going to be with this administration," Levin said.

"Before this election, this November, there's going to be troop reductions in Iraq, and the president will then claim some kind of progress or victory."

And Feingold, another potential presidential candidate, told reporters that Casey's reported proposal "makes me wonder what all this talk was this week in Washington."

"The majority of the American people support a timeline for bringing our troops out," Feingold said. "The only people who don't get it are the politicians and the pundits in Washington. It's time to end the military mission in Iraq."

The Bush administration's often-stated strategy in Iraq is to train enough Iraqi police and troops to defend the country's fledgling government before leaving.

Sen. John Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told Fox the military will discuss the prospect of a U.S. withdrawal with the Iraqis "before we have any timetable as to firm, fixed troop withdrawals."

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the administration was losing support for the conflict at home and in Iraq.

"I had a man who, three years ago, was a very strong supporter of the war in Iraq, come up to me yesterday and say to me, 'Senator, we have National Guard troops from Nebraska going back to Iraq for the third and fourth time. How can that be? What's going on? We were not told that was going to be it,' " Hagel told CNN.

"The Iraqi government, the Iraqi people, want the United States out of Iraq," Hagel said. "They see us as oppressors, rather than liberators. That's just a fact of life."

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