House Democrats proposed legislation Thursday that would have U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by August 2008 -- or sooner if certain benchmarks of progress aren't met.
The troop withdrawal timetables are embedded in appropriations legislation that provides money for care of wounded troops, for better equipment and training, and for expanded operations in Afghanistan.
The plan will "refocus our military efforts on Afghanistan and fighting the war on terrorism where it began," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Just before Pelosi's briefing, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Out of Iraq Caucus held a news conference to explain their legislation, which would require Congress fully to fund withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year.
Pelosi said there was "common ground" between the groups and she expected legislation to be crafted to satisfy all parties.
But Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, who spoke for the Progressive and Out of Iraq caucuses, was critical of the leadership's proposal.
"This plan would require us to believe whatever the president would tell us about progress that was being made," Waters said.
"This is same president that led us into a war with false information, no weapons of mass destruction, said we would be [welcome] with open arms, said that the mission had been accomplished. Now we expect him to give us a progress report in their plan by July?" Waters asked.
As for getting Republican support -- required to override a veto from President Bush should the plan make it that far -- Pelosi said she hoped GOP lawmakers would stand behind a measure that provided the means to equip and maintain U.S. troops properly.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the Democratic leadership proposal.
"Unfortunately, the Democrats' latest plan is an old twist on an old adage: Failure at any cost," Boehner said. "Democrats are using the critical troop funding bill to micromanage the war on terror -- undermining our generals on the ground and slowly choking off resources for our troops. By establishing and telegraphing to our enemy arbitrary timelines for withdrawal, Democrats are mandating failure."
The bill provides that the Bush administration and the Iraqi government meet a series of benchmarks showing progress in bringing stability to Iraq, among them the training of Iraqi forces and the sharing of the country's oil revenue.
If Congress finds those conditions have not been met, a 180-day withdrawal of U.S. troops would begin, possibly as early as July. Pelosi said the barometer of progress would be "a subjective call."
"No matter what, by March 2008, the redeployment begins," she said.
Pelosi was joined by Democratic Reps. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, David Obey of Wisconsin and Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri in presenting what they called the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans Health and Iraq Accountability Act.
Obey said they hoped to have the legislation on the House floor in two weeks.
"This proposal establishes a meaningful timeline for ending U.S. participation in the Iraqi war," Obey said.
Murtha stressed that the plan also included provisions to ensure troops get necessary training before being deployed and at least a year between combat tours.
Aside from war and military-related issues, the Democrats included money in their plan for new and improved levees as part of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina and money to ensure low-income children get access to health care.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the top American commander was saying he will wait before all new U.S. combat troops and military police arrive before making an assessment on what a sustainable number of troops is.
Gen. David Petraeus also said military force alone was not the answer to the problems in Iraq.
"There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq," Petraeus told a news conference, adding that political negotiations were crucial to forging any lasting peace.
Petraeus said talks should include "some of those who have felt the new Iraq did not have a place for them." He said a key challenge facing Iraq's government was to identify "reconcilable" militant groups and bring them inside the political process.