Congress is on the verge of barring the construction of permanent bases for U.S. forces in Iraq, a move aimed at quelling concerns in the Arab world that American forces will remain in the war-torn country indefinitely.
The ban, which was inserted into the annual defense spending bill, won House approval Tuesday night when the chamber overwhelmingly approved the mammoth defense appropriations bill, 394-22.
The Senate is expected to vote on the $448-billion defense spending bill this week.
Pentagon and State Department officials have insisted that the U.S. military is not building permanent American bases in Iraq and that all facilities under construction will be handed over to the Iraqi government.
But the massive American bases in Iraq have long fueled speculation that the United States plans to maintain a military presence there, as it does in other parts of the Arab world.
Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar are all home to large U.S. military bases, which have occasionally helped fuel anti-American sentiment in the region. There was also a big U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia until 2003, when, acknowledging the sensitivity of U.S. troops in the home of Islam, the Pentagon moved most of its personnel elsewhere.
Several members of Congress, including Reps. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), have attempted to explicitly prohibit similar arrangements in Iraq.
On Monday, House and Senate leaders agreed to insert a ban pushed by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, into the defense spending bill.
“I have no illusions that this provision will somehow dramatically change the dynamic of events on the ground in Iraq,” Biden said Tuesday in a statement. “But ... this is a message that needs to be proclaimed loudly and regularly and with the stamp of the Congress.”
In the California delegation, Lee joined Reps. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista), Pete Stark (D-Fremont), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) in opposing the bill. Absent were Reps. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Carson), Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles). All others from California voted in favor of the bill.