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Liberals Relent on Iraq War Funding

When Democratic leaders first spoke of attaching strings to Bush's $100 billion war request, their biggest fear was that they would lose their conservatives. Since then, the bill has actually grown more assertive in its efforts to bring the troops home. Initial efforts to tie the deployment of combat forces to tough standards for resting, equipping and training the troops have been bolstered by binding benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet. If the Iraqis fall short, troop withdrawals could begin as early as July 1. In any case, the withdrawals would have to begin in March 2008, with most combat forces out by Aug. 31, 2008.

Even the more cautious Senate Democrats have moved toward setting a troop-withdrawal date. The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday approved a $122 billion version of a spending bill that would require troops to begin leaving Iraq within four months of passage and would set a nonbinding goal of March 31, 2008, for the removal of combat troops.

To the surprise of many antiwar activists, House Democratic leaders have been able to keep their conservative Blue Dog members largely onboard as they ratcheted up the bill's language. But with Republicans virtually united in opposition, Democrats can afford only 15 defections.

Bush and congressional Republicans have done their best to exploit the divisions, repeatedly mentioning that the Democrats are not united.

"Congress needs to get their business done quickly, get the moneys we've requested funded and let our folks on the ground do the job," the president said yesterday in demanding the funds with no strings attached.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned yesterday that if Congress does not pass the supplemental war funding bill by April 15, the Army may have to slow the training of units slated to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, or halt the repair of equipment. If the funding is delayed until May, he said, the tours of Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan might have to be extended "because other units are not ready to take their place."

The administration's stand has only increased the anguish in the antiwar movement. The liberal activists of opted this week to back the funding bill, but the decision split the group's members and prompted accusations that the MoveOn leadership had stacked the endorsement vote. Win Without War, an umbrella group against the Iraq war, met Tuesday to decide whether to endorse the bill, but the divisions were too deep to bridge.

David Sirota, a former House Appropriations Committee aide who is now an uncompromising blogger, dashed off a memo to progressive lawmakers Wednesday night, imploring them to "accept the congressional world as it is right now," not to insist on the world as they wish it to be, and vote for the bill.

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.

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