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US House panel acts to limit Iraq troop deployment

By Staff
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WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) Keeping pressure on President George W Bush to wind down the Iraq war, a House of Representatives panel approved bills to require the Pentagon to send lawmakers a withdrawal plan and give troops more leave between deployments.

The measures could come to the House floor next week as part of a steady stream of war votes directed by Democratic leaders in hopes of getting more Republicans to abandon Bush's war strategy -- and embarrassing those who do not.

Next week the House is also expected to take up a defense spending bill for the fiscal year starting October 1, and that legislation is attracting anti-war amendments as well. Rep.

John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said this week he planned an amendment that troop withdrawals start within 60 days of enactment.

Republicans and supporters of the 4-1/2-year-old Iraq war call the drumbeat of Iraq votes a waste of time, coming weeks before lawmakers get an update on the war in September from US Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

Retired Gen. John Keane, former vice chief of staff for the Army, pleaded yesterday with House members to ''put these senseless and embarrassing resolutions aside,'' saying they directly contradicted progress being made on the ground in Iraq.

''We are on the offensive,'' Keane told the House Armed Services Committee before it voted to approve the bills on the troop withdrawal plan and downtime for soldiers.

Keane said security had improved in every district in Baghdad since Bush increased troops in Iraq this year, and noted some Sunnis had joined US forces in fighting al Qaeda.

''Al Qaeda are on the way to being defeated,'' he declared.

WRONG THEN, WRONG NOW But Rep Ellen Tauscher, a California Democrat and co-sponsor of both bills the committee approved, cited testimony from Keane two years ago in which he had downplayed the outbreak of civil war in Iraq.

''Back in 2005, you were very optimistic, like you are right now. ... With all due respect sir, you were wrong then and you're wrong now,'' she told Keane.

The first bill approved by the committee, in a 55-2 vote, would require the Pentagon to submit a report on withdrawal planning to the House and Senate military committees within two months after the legislation takes effect.

That contingency planning for a phased withdrawal is already underway was confirmed this week as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was involved in it.

Gates announced this in a letter delivered on Tuesday to Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat and presidential candidate.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will have a closed hearing next Thursday on contingency plans for a US withdrawal, with Eric Edelman, defense undersecretary, testifying.

The other bill, approved 32-25, would require more time at home for active-duty and reserve troops between deployments. In emergencies, the president could waive the requirements.

Critics say that step would reduce the number of units available to be deployed to Iraq. It parallels a proposal that recently failed in the Senate.

Reuters BJR SBA VP0512

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