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Democrats Shape Plans on Iraq

Times Staff Writer

Leading Senate Democrats called Monday for a “phased withdrawal” of U.S. forces from Iraq, outlining what they hope will become a consensus position on the war that will help their party speak with a more unified voice.

Some Democratic lawmakers have called for an immediate withdrawal, others for a continued presence of U.S. troops to foster security. Democratic leaders have been working to develop a consensus to rebut Republican accusations that they are divided and indecisive.

The new Democratic proposal sets a starting point for withdrawing troops but does not set an end date or demand a particular pace for the redeployment, said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. He said he planned to offer the measure as an amendment to a defense spending bill being debated this week in the Senate.

“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.”

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It also calls on the administration to develop a plan for the continued withdrawal of troops beyond 2006, and to change the definition of the mission from occupation to training, logistical support and counter-terrorism.

The measure is co-sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.). It has gained the support of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other party leaders.

“This amendment was crafted to get the support of a majority of Democrats as well as some Republicans,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

A second proposal, from Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), calls for complete withdrawal by July 2007. It appears to have the support of half a dozen senators, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who has signed on as a sponsor.

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Many of the senators who support the Kerry proposal are expected to back the Levin amendment too, aides said.

“We need a deadline for the redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq,” Kerry and Feingold said in a statement. “A deadline gives Iraqis the best chance for stability and self-government, and most importantly, it allows us to begin refocusing on the true threats that face our country.”

Progress in Iraq is expected to be a central issue in the fall congressional elections, as well as the 2008 presidential election. Kerry and Feingold are both expected to seek the Democratic nomination for president.

“After three years and three months of American presence, and after all the casualties that we have taken and the treasure which we have spent, the Iraqis are going to need to step up now and take over the security responsibility and deal with the militias,” Levin said. “It’s not a criticism of the Iraqis. It’s a way forward in order to improve the chances of success.”

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Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, denounced the Levin proposal as “cutting and running.”

“Let me be clear: Retreat is not a solution. Our national security requires us to follow through on our commitments,” Frist said in a statement. “Artificial deadlines are not the solution.... Cutting and running is bad policy that threatens our national security and poses unacceptable risks to Americans.”

The Senate is expected to spend much of the week debating Iraq. Last week, the House passed a resolution expressing support for the administration’s policies and rejecting an “artificial timeline” for withdrawal.

Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking to reporters at a journalism awards ceremony, said Monday that he stood by his assertion a year ago that the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes.” But he acknowledged the intensity of the insurgency surprised the administration.

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“I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we’ve encountered,” Cheney said. “I guess the other area that I look at, in terms of an area where I think we were faced with difficulties we didn’t anticipate, was the devastation that 30 years of Saddam’s rule had wrought, if you will, on the psychology of the Iraqi people. Very, very hard to go from the way they were forced to live for a long period of time to a situation in which they have the opportunity for self-government.”

Last week, both of California’s senators intended to offer their own withdrawal proposals, but they agreed over the weekend to coalesce around the two approaches announced Monday.

“I believe an open-ended commitment is no longer sustainable in Iraq,” Feinstein said in a statement. “It seems to me the president should have come forward with something more specific than ‘Stay the course’ and ‘We will stand down as they stand up.’ ”


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