Democrats to drop demand for Iraq withdrawal timeline


Washington : The centre-left Democrats who control the US Congress have said they would drop demands for firm withdrawal deadlines in pending legislation to pay for the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The Democrats are expected to settle for legislation that merely sets benchmarks for the Iraqi government to show progress toward resolving powersharing, improving security and stabilizing the country. US President George W. Bush would still be able to waive those requirements, under the current outline.

"I view this as the beginning of the end of the president's policy on Iraq in this way: it ends the blank check on more troops, more money, more time, and more of the same," Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, a member of the Democratic leadership in the lower House of Representatives, said Tuesday.

US President George W. Bush, who ordered the Iraq invasion in March 2003, has strongly opposed attaching withdrawal dates to the war-funding measure. He vetoed legislation last month that contained firm deadlines and has vowed to continue to reject any withdrawal dates, arguing that it would undermine the Iraqi government and ensure defeat.

The opposition Democrats lack the two-thirds majorities required to override a president veto in both chambers, where Bush's centre-right Republicans still have large minorities despite their defeat in the November 2006 congressional elections.

The details of the 120-billion-dollar legislation remain to be decided, said Wisconsin Congressman David Obey, who is leading the negotiations for Democrats in the lower House of Representatives.

"We have the general outlines of an agreement. We are still trying to put together the details," he said in a Capitol Hill press conference late Tuesday. "But I think we're very close to having things tied down."

Some domestic measures, which Bush has opposed, are likely to be included in the package, such as a hike in the US minimum wage and additional money for US hurricane relief.

The measure is likely to come up for a vote within a few days.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a California congresswoman, called the still tentative deal a "brilliant way to go forward" after the impasse with Bush. Yet she suggested that she was personally "not likely to vote for something that doesn't have a timetable or a goal of coming home."

Defending the expected deal from likely criticism by the anti-war wing of the Democratic opposition, Emanuel said that the legislation "begins the notion that we have to have a new direction to Iraq that has accountability, standards … and the notion that what we have done in the past doesn't work and that you have to find some other way to bring a conclusion to the Iraq war."