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September Could Be Key Deadline in War

Democrats are ready to rush that process. The new House proposal would immediately provide about $43 billion of the $95.5 billion the administration says it needs to keep the war going through Sept. 30. That infusion would come with language establishing benchmarks of success for the Iraqi government, and it is likely to include tougher standards for resting, training and equipping troops. Binding timelines for troop withdrawals would be dropped to try to win Republican support and avoid a second veto.

The remaining $52.5 billion in the bill would be contingent on a second vote in late July, after the administration's progress report.

Democrats say that is a reasonable time frame for the first assessment of Bush's troop increase, since the last of the additional troops being sent to Iraq will arrive this month.

But Petraeus has said repeatedly that it will be at least another month or two after the troops are in place before it will be possible to assess the impact of those reinforcements and, just as important, of the new U.S. approach that is moving combat troops off big, isolated bases and into dozens of smaller combat outposts across Baghdad. When he visited Washington last month, Petraeus told members of Congress that he will be ready to assess his progress by September.

Not even the most optimistic military officials think Baghdad will be quiet by then, but they think they might be able to discern long-term trends.

Another major test will come in the form of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which under Islam's lunar calendar will begin this year around Sept. 12. In every one of the four years of the war, Ramadan has brought a spike in violence. If the Petraeus approach is not able to break that pattern, it will be difficult for many members of Congress to continue to argue that progress is being made.

September is also the last month of the fiscal year in Washington. Without tangible signs of progress, Congress is likely to demand tougher conditions on war funding for fiscal 2008.

All those factors point to this fall as the deadline.

"There is a sense that by September, you've got to see real action on the part of Iraqis," said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). "I think everybody knows that, I really do."

"I think a lot of us feel that way," agreed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Staff writer Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.

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