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Democrats seek limits on the U.S. mission in Iraq

Times Staff Writer

Democratic leaders in Congress, attempting to shift the Iraq war debate from funding to strategy, said Sunday that they planned to propose binding legislation that would limit the role of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told “Fox News Sunday” that a bipartisan Senate proposal was in the works to “modify” the “wide-open” 2002 congressional resolution that authorized President Bush to use military force against Iraq. Such a modification, Levin said, could stop the president from continuing on a “failing course.”

“We will be looking at a modification of that authorization in order to limit the mission of American troops to a support mission instead of a combat mission, and that is very different from cutting off funds,” he said.

The proposal would change the U.S. role from an “unlimited mission” to “an anti-terrorist mission to go after Al Qaeda in Iraq, to support and train the Iraqi army, to protect our own diplomatic personnel and other personnel in Iraq,” Levin said.

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Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CNN’s " Late Edition,” White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Congress should remember that any limits on funding or the mission would bind not only the president but “the guys in the field.”

“They think they need the support; we think they need the support,” Snow said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told CNN that Senate proposals during the next few months would focus on extricating troops, not eliminating military funds. Reid called efforts to focus the debate exclusively on funding a “waste of effort.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), on the same program, said Republicans planned to try to focus the nation’s attention on war funding, which he considered politically dangerous territory for Democrats.

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McConnell said he could “guarantee” that in future debates on Iraq, “Senate Republicans are going to want to vote on funding the troops.”

On Friday, the House approved a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush’s decision to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, primarily to deal with sectarian violence in Baghdad. During a special session Saturday, efforts to debate a similar measure failed in the Senate, 56 to 34, with seven Republicans joining the Democrats in the majority. Sixty votes were needed to allow debate.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), a presidential hopeful and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that after last week’s votes, Congress would face increasing public pressure to restrict the president’s ability to wage war in Iraq.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Biden said he was trying to persuade his fellow senators to “make it clear that the purpose that he has troops in there is to, in fact, protect against Al Qaeda gaining chunks of territory [and for] training the Iraqi forces ....It’s not to get in the midst of a civil war.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Saturday introduced a resolution to set an expiration date of Dec. 31 for the authorization to invade Iraq. It would require the president to appeal to Congress for an extension.

On Friday, presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation to cap the level of U.S. troops in Iraq and to begin withdrawing U.S. military personnel in 90 days. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), an outspoken Vietnam War veteran who heads the House panel that oversees military spending, on Thursday announced plans to sponsor legislation to ban the deployment of units that did not meet strict readiness standards.

Republicans may be more willing to join Democrats on restricting the president’s war powers, which is seen as more politically expedient than debating war funding. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll last week showed that 63% of adults opposed sending more troops to Iraq, but 68% also opposed efforts by Congress to cut all war funding.

Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was among the Republicans who voted Saturday in favor of debating the Iraq resolution. He said that he supported a similar binding measure and that funding should no longer be the focus of debate.

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“What this debate is about right now is a continuation and an escalation of American military involvement in Iraq, putting young men and women in the middle of a sectarian, an intra-sectarian civil war,” Hagel told “Meet the Press.”

On “Face the Nation,” Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said a binding congressional resolution to restrict Bush’s war powers would probably be vetoed by the president but would nonetheless send a powerful message.

It would be “very, very helpful” for Bush to call a meeting with Democratic leaders to reach consensus on war plans, said Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who voted Saturday against debating the nonbinding resolution.

“He would be well served by having a bipartisan policy which does pass, then, the House and the Senate, as really a stamp of the American people at a time in which they see the urgency of Iraq,” Lugar said.

molly.hennessy-fiske@

latimes.com


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