Friday, April 27, 2007

Senate opens new front in Iraq skirmish

Senate opens new front in Iraq skirmish
By Demetri Sevastopulo and Andrew Ward in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 26 2007 19:42 | Last updated: April 27 2007 06:07

The Democratically-controlled US Congress yesterday paved the way for the next battle with the White House over Iraq after the Senate approved legislation that includes a timetable for withdrawal from the war-torn country.

After the Senate voted 51-46 to approve the emergency spending bill, the White House said the legislation, which largely resembles the House version, was “dead on arrival”. President George W. Bush is expected to veto the legislation, which would force Congress to work on another bill.

The vote came as General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, said the overall level of violence in the country remained unchanged from January despite a recent decrease in sectarian killings.

The four-star general, who was appointed to manage the US “surge” in Iraq, also warned that the security situation could deteriorate before any improvement was seen. “This effort may get harder before it gets easier,” he said at the Pentagon.

Gen Petraeus is this week briefing politicians and military leaders in Washington about the surge that began in February.

“I think there is the very real possibility that there is going to be more combat action and that, therefore, there could be more casualties,” he said, adding that the full complement of additional US forces should be in place by mid-June.

Gen Petraeus pointed to some positive signs, including a significant reduction in sectarian killings and an increase in the number of weapons caches discovered. But he also warned that groups affiliated with al-Qaeda continued to have success with spectacular car bomb attacks.

In September Gen Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the new US envoy to Iraq, will present Mr Bush with an assessment of whether the surge has been effective. Asked whether he could call for a withdrawal if he believed the surge was not working, Gen Petraeus said it was his duty to provide a forthright assessment.

He said interrogations of Iranians captured in Iraq this year had provided additional information about the involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in financing attacks in Iraq.

Following the Senate vote yesterday, Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate armed services committee, said: “Mr President, the present course in Iraq is failing. The Iraqis are no closer to political reconciliation today than they were at the time the surge started. Instead of Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki’s government becoming stronger, it appears that it is weaker.”

The House on Wednesday passed, by 218 votes to 208, its version of the emergency spending bill, calling for an end to combat operations by April 2008.

The legislation represents the most serious congressional challenge to Mr Bush’s policies in Iraq since the Democrats took control of Capitol Hill in January.

Democrats said the bill was likely to be delivered to Mr Bush on Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of his “victory speech” on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln beneath a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished”. A Bush administration official described the timing as the “height of cynicism”.


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