Bush Signs Iraq Spending Bill

The Associated Press
Friday, May 25, 2007; 11:30 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed a bill Friday to pay for military operations in Iraq after a bitter struggle with Democrats in Congress who sought unsuccessfully to tie the money to U.S. troop withdrawals.

Bush signed the bill into law at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, where he is spending part of the Memorial Day weekend. In announcing the signing, White House spokesman Tony Fratto noted that it came 109 days after Bush sent his emergency spending request to Congress.

Bush had rejected an earlier bill because it contained a timetable for withdrawing troops. However, The New York Times reported Friday night that the Bush administration is working on ideas for cutting U.S. forces in Iraq by as much as half, to roughly 100,000, by mid-2008.

The mission Bush set for the U.S. military in January when he ordered it to regain control of Baghdad and Anbar province would also be greatly scaled back and would focus on training Iraqi troops and fighting al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, the paper reported on its Web site.

Proponents of reducing the number of troops and scaling back their mission appear to include Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Times reported, as well as generals in the Pentagon and elsewhere who have been skeptical of political progress by Iraq's government. The top commanders in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, have not been involved in the discussions, the paper said. The report cited unidentified administration officials.

While the measure he signed establishes political goals for the Iraqi government and ties U.S. reconstruction aid to so-called benchmarks, Bush retains authority over the funds regardless of how the government in Baghdad performs.

"Rather than mandate arbitrary timetables for troop withdrawals or micromanage our military commanders, this legislation enables our servicemen and women to follow the judgment of commanders on the ground," Bush said in a statement.

"This important bill also provides a clear roadmap to help the Iraqis secure their country and strengthen their young democracy," he said. "Iraqis need to demonstrate measurable progress on a series of benchmarks for improved security, political reconciliation and governance. These tasks will be difficult for this young democracy, but we are confident they will continue to make progress on the goals they have set for themselves."

The president's signature on this measure, however, doesn't end debate on Capitol Hill over the administration's war policy _ a dispute that will heat up again this fall.

"I think the president's policy is going to begin to unravel now," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who expressed disappointment that the bill did not force an end to U.S. participation in the conflict.

Democrats say the drive to bring U.S. troops home is far from over.

"We're going to keep coming back and coming back," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic caucus.

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