Key Democrats united on Iraq pullout
Letter to Bush calls for start of withdrawal by year's end
Democratic leaders: "U.S. forces in Iraq should transition to a more limited mission."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a show of election-year unity, top congressional Democrats have sent a letter to President Bush calling on him to change an "open-ended" policy on Iraq that they said has not worked.
Twelve Democrats, including the Senate and House minority leaders -- Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California -- signed the letter, which was delivered to the White House on Sunday.
The letter served to return some focus to Iraq after fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas has dominated headlines since July 12.
"While the world has been focused on the crisis in the Middle East, Iraq has exploded in violence," the Democrats wrote about 100 days ahead of November's midterm congressional elections.
"U.S. forces in Iraq should transition to a more limited mission focused on counterterrorism, training and logistical support of Iraqi security forces, and force protection of U.S. personnel," the letter said.
The members resurrected a plan put forward last month by Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan that called for a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq to begin by the end of this year.
The Senate voted 60-39 in June to reject that plan, which set no deadline for the withdrawal's completion.
Days later, Bush said that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will be determined by military commanders, the Iraqi government and "conditions on the ground."
He repeated the administration policy that once the "Iraqis stand up, the coalition will be able to stand down."
Reid said earlier this month that he wanted more debate in the Senate about the war in Iraq, but it wasn't clear what concrete steps the Democrats planned to make that happen.
"Despite the latest evidence that your administration lacks a coherent strategy to stabilize Iraq and achieve victory, there has been virtually no diplomatic effort to resolve sectarian differences, no regional effort to establish a broader security framework, and no attempt to revive a struggling reconstruction effort," the letter said.
"Instead, we learned of your plans to redeploy an additional 5,000 U.S. troops into an urban war zone in Baghdad. Far from implementing a comprehensive 'Strategy for Victory,' as you promised months ago, your administration's strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat."
A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said Monday that the Democrats were again calling for the United States to "wave the white flag of surrender."
"The Democratic leadership has failed to understand the sacrifices made by our troops on foreign shores are keeping the battle against the terrorists out of our cities and neighborhoods," Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said. "Our soldiers know that by going into harm's way, they are keeping American freedoms safe."
But another key Republican, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, took to the floor of the Senate Monday afternoon to warn that U.S. troops were "bogged down in Iraq" while the world watched Israel's campaign against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.
He said the 3-year-old war is wearing badly on the U.S. military, and that Iraq's fledgling democracy needs to take over more of its security responsibilities from American troops.
"This is not about setting a timeline," Hagel said. "This is about understanding the implications of the forces of reality."
In their letter, the Democrats pushed the president to do more to shore up the Iraqi government and armed forces, including pressing the international community to provide "the resources necessary to finance Iraq's reconstruction and rebuild its economy."
"Simply staying the course in Iraq is not working," they wrote. "We need to take a new direction. We believe these recommendations comprise an effective alternative to the current open-ended commitment which is not producing the progress in Iraq we would all like to see."
In addition to Reid, Pelosi and Levin, the letter was signed by Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Joe Biden of Delaware, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, along with Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Ike Skelton of Missouri, Tom Lantos of California and John Murtha of Pennsylvania.
"U.S. troops and taxpayers continue to pay a high price as your administration searches for a policy," the letter said, adding that the war has cost the United States more than $300 billion.
Since the start of the war in 2003, 2,576 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. Seven Department of Defense civilian employees have also died in Iraq.
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