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Senate Democrats Unveil Plan for Phased Withdrawal from Iraq

Correction Appended

After weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling, Senate Democrats emerged Thursday from a closed-door meeting with details of a new Iraq resolution calling for phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country beginning within three months.

The joint resolution, which is binding, would set specific goals for President Bush’s Iraq War policy including that the withdrawal of forces begin no later than 120 days after the bill is enacted and that a goal of a complete redeployment be achieved by March 31, 2008.

Democratic leaders said a binding resolution would go to the floor as early as next Tuesday, with debate spanning at least a week. Republicans would get the chance to offer three competing alternatives, while Senate Democrats may get the chance to put out a second proposal as well, sources said.

“We feel very strongly in our position,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Whether any Republicans will join us, we don’t know.”

Democrats suggested that a good share — perhaps as many as 50 of 51 of their Caucus — will back their latest resolution. It remains unclear whether Reid will seek a minimal threshold of 50 or 60 votes for the measure, and other GOP alternatives.

“This gives the White House the opportunity to face reality,” said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), one of the Senate’s staunchest opponents of the war. “This is a signal of a major step in changing the state of the war.”

In both chambers, Democrats have been wrestling with how best to take on the White House and its latest plan to increase the troop presence in Iraq. The party has faced a major internal battle, however, over the degree to which it tries to set specific guidelines for Bush’s policy.

House Democrats are pressing ahead by adding language to Bush’s supplemental spending request for Iraq by setting specific benchmarks and timelines for the conflict.

Senate Democrats have been wary of tying their position to the funding of the war, and while many say they would ultimately support the House plan, it remains their second choice.

“It’s not my preference, but I would support it,” said Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

That not withstanding, Durbin said Republicans will have a tough pill to swallow going forward once the measure comes to the floor. Republicans have effectively pushed back Democratic attempts to capture the 60 votes needed to proceed to a debate on the pending troop increase.

“They have within their power to stop or at least delay the debate,” Durbin said. “But their day of reckoning is coming.”

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he believes the Senate measure is “right and balanced” and achieves the goals set out by all factions of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Asked about whether it runs counter to the House plan on the supplemental, he said he believes they can move forward on separate tracks: “It’s a different approach — one’s on an appropriations bill and one isn’t.”

Other provisions in the Democratic plan include:

• clauses supporting the troops and stating they should not police a civil war;

• calling for a goal of a redeployment by March 2008 with the exception of “a limited number that are essential for force protection, training and equipment of Iraqi troops and targeted counter terror operations;”

• and setting out a new “comprehensive strategy” for stability in the region, including calls to “change course, transition the mission and bring stability to Iraq.”

Correction: March 8, 2007

A previous version of this report stated the incorrect date of a closed-door meeting between Senate Democrats. The correct date of said meeting was Thursday, March 8.

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