Obama Bill Sets Date For Troop Withdrawal

By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, one of the most prominent Democrats in the 2008 presidential field, proposed for the first time setting a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, as part of a broader plan aimed at bolstering the freshman senator's foreign policy credentials.

Obama's legislation, offered on the Senate floor last night, would remove all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008. The date falls within the parameters offered by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which recommended the removal of combat troops by the first quarter of next year.

"The days of our open-ended commitment must come to a close," Obama said in his speech. "It is time for us to fundamentally change our policy. It is time to give Iraqis their country back."

The senator offered his ideas in the midst of an intense congressional debate over President Bush's latest Iraq proposal, to deploy an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to curtail an increasingly virulent insurgency. It also coincides with the launch of the 2008 campaign, with Obama, as well as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and other Democrats forming exploratory committees.

Obama's timetable for completing a withdrawal puts him at odds with other leading rivals for the Democratic nomination. Clinton supports capping the number of troops at their levels of Jan. 1. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) has proposed a similar troop cap. But neither has embraced a timetable for a troop removal. Edwards has been outspoken in his opposition to Bush's new plan and has called for the immediate withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 troops. But he, too, has stopped short of setting firm date by which all would be removed.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is the only other prominent Democrat in the field to set a withdrawal timetable, declaring that troops "can and should" be brought home by the end of 2007.

The Obama plan, called the Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007, would begin a troop withdrawal no later than May 1, 2007, but it includes several caveats that could forestall a clean break:

It would leave a limited number of troops in place to conduct counterterrorism activities and train Iraqi forces. And the withdrawal could be temporarily suspended if the Iraqi government meets a series of benchmarks laid out by the Bush administration. That list includes a reduction in sectarian violence; the equitable distribution of oil revenue; government reforms; and democratic, Iraqi-driven reconstruction and economic development efforts. Obama's proposal also would reverse Bush's troop-increase plan.

The buildup is broadly opposed by Democrats, who believe that their constituents want to see the war end.

Obama described his proposal as a mainstream package of well-vetted ideas, consistent with the Iraq Study Group's recommendations and "with what the American people demanded in the November election," when they voted Republicans out of power in both the House and the Senate.

"When it comes to the war in Iraq, the time for promises and assurances, for waiting and for patience, is over. Too many lives have been lost and too many billions of dollars have been spent, for us to trust the president on another tired and failed policy," he said.

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company