boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Senate Democrats move to limit the US mission in Iraq

Look to revoke broad authority given to Bush

WASHINGTON -- Determined to challenge President Bush, Senate Democrats are drafting legislation to limit the mission of US troops in Iraq, effectively revoking the broad authority Congress granted in 2002, officials said yesterday.

These officials said the precise wording of the measure has not been finalized, but one draft would restrict American troops in Iraq to combating Al Qaeda, training Iraqi Army and police forces, maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity, and otherwise proceeding with the withdrawal of combat forces.

The officials, Democratic aides and others familiar with private discussions, spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying rank-and-file senators had not yet been briefed . They said Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada is expected to present the proposal to fellow Democrats early next week for their consideration.

The plan is to add the measure to anti terrorism legislation that is scheduled to be on the Senate floor next week and the week following.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, declined to discuss the deliberations, saying only, "No final decisions have been made on how to proceed."

Any attempt to limit Bush's powers as commander in chief probably would face strong opposition from Republican allies of the administration in the Senate and could also face a veto threat.

The decision to try to limit the military mission marks the next move in what Reid and other Senate war critics have said will be a multistep effort to force a change in Bush's strategy and eventually bring an end to US participation in the nearly four-year-old war.

Earlier efforts to pass a nonbinding measure critical of Bush's decision to deploy 21,500 additional troops ended in gridlock after Senate Republicans blocked votes on two separate measures.

The emerging Senate plan differs markedly from an approach favored by critics of the war in the House, where a nonbinding measure passed last week.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects the next challenge to Bush's war policies to come in the form of legislation requiring the Pentagon to adhere to strict training and readiness standards in the case of troops ticketed for the war zone.

The leading advocate of that approach, Representative John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, has said it would effectively deny Bush the ability to proceed with the troop buildup that has been partially implemented since he announced it in January.

Some Senate Democrats have been privately critical of that approach, saying it would have virtually no chance of passing and could easily backfire politically in the face of Republican arguments that it would deny reinforcements to troops already in the war zone.

Several Senate Democrats in recent days have called for revoking the original authorization that Bush sought and won from Congress in the months before the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

That measure authorized the president to use the armed forces "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate . . . to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and to enforce relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.

At the time the world body had passed resolutions regarding Iraq's presumed effort to develop weapons of mass destruction.

In a speech last week, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "I am working on legislation to repeal that authorization and replace it with a much narrower mission statement ."

He added that Congress should make clear what the mission of US troops is: to responsibly draw down, while continuing to combat terrorists, train Iraqis, and respond to emergencies.

"We should make equally clear what their mission is not: to stay in Iraq indefinitely and get mired in a savage civil war," said Biden.

Along with Biden, officials said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a small group of key Democrats were involved in the effort to draft legislation.

It was not clear whether the measure would explicitly state that the 2002 authorization for the use of military force was being revoked. One proposal that had been circulated would declare that Bush was not authorized to involve US armed forces in an Iraqi civil war, but it appeared that prohibition had been dropped as part of the discussions.

One Democrat said the legislation could remain silent on the issue of Bush's troop increase and contended that Reid had said he was ready to move beyond the deployment of more troops.

At the same time, several officials said any explicit authority for US troops to confront Al Qaeda would effectively back Bush's decision to dispatch about 3,500 troops to the volatile Anbar Province in the western part of Iraq.

The balance of the additional troops would go to Baghdad, where the administration hopes they can help quell sectarian violence and give the Iraqi government time to establish its authority.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES