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Key Democrats united on Iraq pullout

Letter to Bush calls for start of troop withdrawal by year's end

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

Democratic leaders told President Bush in their letter that "simply staying the course in Iraq is not working."


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


Democratic Party
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House and Senate Democratic leaders have joined together to urge President Bush to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq this year.

The move is part of an effort to shake the notion that Democrats are split on the Iraq war and keep the focus on what they see as a winning issue against Republicans.

Twelve Democrats, including the Senate and House minority leaders and ranking members of key committees, wrote President Bush on Sunday about the matter.

"In the interests of American national security, our troops and our taxpayers, the open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained," said the Democratic letter, which CNN obtained.

Democratic senators and aides said the letter was intended to illustrate a unified position on the war after June debates in the House and Senate exposed differences inside the party, which Republicans tried to exploit.

In the letter, House Democrats joined with their counterparts in the Senate to back a proposal put forward in June by Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan to begin a phased troop withdrawal this year. The proposal failed in the Senate but garnered 38 Democratic votes.

"Despite the latest evidence that your administration lacks a coherent strategy to stabilize Iraq and achieve victory, there has been virtually no diplomatic effort to resolve sectarian differences, no regional effort to establish a broader security framework and no attempt to revive a struggling reconstruction effort," the Democrats wrote.

"Instead, we learned of your plans to redeploy an additional 5,000 U.S. troops into an urban war zone in Baghdad. Far from implementing a comprehensive 'Strategy for Victory,' as you promised months ago, your administration's strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat."

GOP urged not to run from Iraq

Beyond trying to shed the perception they're divided, Democrats also are using the letter to advance another part of their election-year strategy: keep the spotlight on the war, which they insist will hurt vulnerable Republicans.

"It is more dangerous; we're still losing American lives, and the Iraqis have not stepped up to defend their own country," Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, recently said. "That is a fact, and that will be a fact that people will remember in November."

In July, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said that he wanted more debate in the Senate about the Iraq war, but it wasn't clear what the Democrats were planning to do on the issue.

Despite the increased violence in Iraq and diminished support for the war at home, the White House and GOP leaders are encouraging Republicans not to run from Iraq but rather hit Democrats with being weak on national security.

In June, the Senate voted 60-39 to reject the Reed-Levin plan, which set no deadline for the withdrawal's completion.

Days later, Bush said that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will be determined by military commanders, the Iraqi government and "conditions on the ground."

Hastert spokesman: Democrats waving 'white flag'

A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said Monday that the Democrats were again calling for the United States to "wave the white flag of surrender."

"The Democratic leadership has failed to understand the sacrifices made by our troops on foreign shores [that] are keeping the battle against the terrorists out of our cities and neighborhoods," Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said. "Our soldiers know that by going into harm's way, they are keeping American freedoms safe."

But another key Republican, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, took to the floor of the Senate on Monday to warn that U.S. troops were "bogged down in Iraq," while the world watched Israel's campaign against Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

Hagel said the 3-year-old war is wearing badly on the U.S. military and that Iraq needs to take over more security responsibilities from American troops.

"This is not about setting a timeline," he said. "This is about understanding the implications of the forces of reality." (Full story)

In their letter, the Democrats pushed the president to do more to shore up the Iraqi government and armed forces, including pressing the international community to provide "the resources necessary to finance Iraq's reconstruction and rebuild its economy."

"Simply staying the course in Iraq is not working," they wrote. "We need to take a new direction. We believe these recommendations comprise an effective alternative to the current open-ended commitment which is not producing the progress in Iraq we would all like to see."

In addition to Durbin, Levin, Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, the letter was signed by Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, along with Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Ike Skelton of Missouri, Tom Lantos and Jane Harman of California and John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

Levin noted that even Murtha, a Democrat with strong military ties who first called for an immediate troop withdrawal last year, had backed the phased pullout.

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