The US Senate on Tuesday signalled support for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of March next year, setting Congress on a collision course with President George W. Bush.
Republican attempts to remove the nonbinding timeline from a $121.6bn war-funding bill were defeated by a vote of 50-48, largely along party lines,
The vote represented the strongest challenge to Mr Bush’s handling of the war since the Democrats took control of Congress last November. “This war is not worth the spilling of another drop of American blood,” said Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, during the debate prior to the vote.
The vote came four days after the House of Representatives passed its version of a war-spending bill that would set a mandatory deadline for the withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq by September next year.
Tuesday’s Senate vote makes it almost certain that Mr Bush will be presented with legislation calling for a change in his Iraq policy, although the both houses of Congress must first reconcile their differing bills in conference.
Mr Bush has promised to veto any legislation including a timetable for withdrawal, raising the prospect of a tense showdown over funding for the Iraq war later this year.
A White House spokesperson said Mr Bush was disappointed that the Senate had continued its path towards a “bill that he will veto and has no chance of becoming law.”
The White House had warned before the Senate vote that the timetable and other provisions in the bill would “place freedom and democracy in Iraq at grave risk, embolden our enemies and undercut the administration’s plan to develop the Iraqi economy”.
Tuesday’s Senate vote was an important step forward in Democratic efforts to develop a unified stance against the war in Congress. An attempt to pass similar legislation earlier this month failed to gain a majority.
John McCain, the Republican senator and presidential hopeful, condemned Democrats for pushing for withdrawal just as “we are starting to turn things around in the Iraq war”.