U.S. Senate: 2006 to be 'period of significant transition' in Iraq

The Senate, mindful that the Iraq war is growing increasingly unpopular, is calling for 2006 to be a period of significant political and military transition in Iraq that will create conditions for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The Republican-controlled chamber was voting Tuesday on a pair of proposals, one Republican and one Democratic, had tell President George W. Bush what the Senate believes the U.S. diplomatic and military policy on Iraq should be.

Whichever proposal prevails will be added to a defense bill the Senate is hoping to complete work on as early as Tuesday.

The bill includes provisions that, taken together, mark an effort by Congress to rein in some of the wide authority lawmakers gave the president following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For instance, the measure includes language imposing restrictions on the treatment of foreign detainees and requiring details on purportedly secret CIA prisons overseas.

A bipartisan group of senators reached a compromise Monday that would allow detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to appeal the rulings of U.S. military tribunals to the federal courts. Detainees who receive a punishment of 10 years in prison or more or death would get an automatic appeal to the federal appeals court in Washington.

Detainees with lesser sentences still could petition the court to hear their cases. And the 500 or so detainees at the U.S. naval base in Cuba would be allowed to challenge in federal court the procedure under which they were labeled "enemy combatants."

The Senate was voting on the compromise provision Tuesday. Nearly identical, the two Iraq policy proposals call for, to do not require, the Bush administration to "explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq" and to provide reports on U.S. foreign policy and military operations in Iraq every three months until all U.S. combat brigades have been withdrawn.

The major difference between the two versions is that the Democratic proposal calls for the president to outline a "campaign plan with estimated dates for the phased redeployment" of U.S. troops.

Republicans largely adopted the Democratic proposal as their own, but omitted that one paragraph calling for the president to offer a plan for a phased withdrawal of the roughly 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. The administration has refused to set a timetable for withdrawal, saying insurgents simply would wait to strike until after U.S. forces departed.

Regardless of the differences, Senate proposals indicate an increasing willingness by Congress to question the president's handling of the war as the U.S. death toll climbs, public support plummets, the insurgency continues and the price tag soars with no end is in sight.

The action comes just under a year before the next biannual election, in which a third of the Senate and the entire House is up for re-election.

Overall, the Iraq proposals call 2006 a transition year in which Iraqi forces take over security of their country from U.S. forces to a far greater extent so the Americans can begin returning home. The Bush administration would have to report every three months on whether Iraqis have achieved "a sustainable political settlement that is essential for defeating the insurgency in Iraq," as well as the specific levels of training of Iraqi security forces and police units.

The biggest difference between the two proposals was the Democrats' call for a plan of withdrawal,r eports the AP. I.L.

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