Senate moves to tighten reins on wartime policy

But effort to set withdrawal plan is rejected


WASHINGTON -- The Senate took a step yesterday toward tightening the reins on the war in Iraq, adopting a resolution that calls for the Bush administration to turn over to Iraqis more control of their country to hasten the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The measure comes as concern over the war's course is rising even among Republican lawmakers and President Bush's approval ratings have sunk to the lowest of his presidency.

The resolution, which passed with broad bipartisan support, 79-19, calls for 2006 to be "a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty," which would create conditions for "the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq."

FOR THE RECORD - A headline on Page 1A yesterday contained a usage error, saying, "Senate moves to tighten reigns on wartime policy." The correct word is reins.

It also would require the administration to report to Congress every three months on the status of the conflict in Iraq.

The measure passed after the Senate rejected, 58-40, a Democrat-sponsored amendment to require Bush to prepare an estimated timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq - a proposal strongly opposed by the administration. The vote on this amendment largely followed party lines.

The provision that passed is part of the annual defense spending bill, which this year has spurred the Senate's first significant debate of the administration's conduct of the war since Congress voted more than three years ago to authorize the invasion.

"We want accountability from this president," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. "It's not good enough for the president to make speeches about staying the course when the course has led to so many lives being lost, so many dollars being spent."

The Senate version of the defense legislation - which is traditionally a "must pass" bill - includes two other provisions aimed at changing administration practices related to the war.

One is an amendment approved this month that bans all agencies of the U.S. government from engaging in "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment," including torture. Another, passed yesterday, would grant foreign detainees held by the U.S. in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, limited rights to appeal their incarceration or convictions to a federal court.

The House version of the bill does not contain any of these provisions, so whether they remain in the legislation's final form remains uncertain.

Backing the resolution on Iraq were 41 Republicans, 37 Democrats and the Senate's lone independent. Opposing it were 13 Republicans and six Democrats.

Despite the resolution's broad support, Republicans and Democrats described its intent differently.

Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the measure's co-sponsor with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, called it a "strong bipartisan message to the world" that it was time for Iraqis to take charge of their own country.

"The coalition forces, most particularly the United States and Great Britain, have done their job," Warner said. "And now we expect in return that [Iraqis] take charge of their nation and run it and form a democracy and prevent any vestige of a civil war from taking place."

Democrats said the resolution demonstrated increasing discontent with the administration's conduct of the war.

"Democrats and Republicans acknowledged that staying the course is not the way to go," said Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. "Therefore, this is a vote of no confidence on the Bush administration policy in Iraq."

An administration spokeswoman described the Iraq amendment as an endorsement of the president's policies.

"We welcome the [amendment], as it supports the president's agenda and recognizes what the president has said: that artificial deadlines only help the terrorists. He has said many times that any adjustments to force levels would be condition-based," the spokeswoman said.

As for the reporting requirement, she said the administration already gives Congress quarterly updates on reconstruction and security issues in Iraq.

The Senate's version of the defense spending bill, containing the three war-related amendments, was adopted by the chamber 98-0. Senate and House members will meet shortly to draft a joint version of the bill.

The White House has threatened to veto the measure if the anti-torture amendment remained in the bill.

Maura Reynolds and Mark Mazzetti write for the Los Angeles Times.

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