View Full Version : House OKs War Funds, August Offensive Feared

05-25-2007, 07:41 AM
House OKs war funds; August offensive feared


Chicago Tribune
Associated Press

In the Rose Garden after war fund bill was approved, President Bush warned that hard summer fighting was likely. WASHINGTON - As the House reluctantly voted yesterday to finance the Iraq war through September, President Bush conceded that American forces will face tough fighting and many casualties in the months ahead, and possibly a "bloody" August as enemies try to "shake the will" of the United States.

With the narrow House vote to approve $100 billion for the military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Democratic leaders abandoned the timelines for U.S. troop withdrawals they had sought for months and that the president had vetoed in an earlier measure, but they pledged to fight again this fall.

The House voted 280-142 to approve the funds, with Democrats deeply split and Republicans overwhelmingly in favor.

The outcome resolves the immediate stalemate over withdrawal dates in Bush's favor. But it binds the president even more closely to a highly unpopular war, and it postpones only until fall the next open battle between the Democratic-controlled Congress and Republican White House - a time when Bush's hand may be even weaker.

September is shaping up as a portentous month, with the new war funding expiring and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, due to submit a progress report on the troop escalation Bush ordered earlier this year. A significant number of Republican lawmakers are saying they may abandon the president if conditions in Iraq have not improved by then.

Because insurgents are aware that September will be pivotal, the president said, forces intent on pushing the U.S. out of Iraq are likely to step up their assaults this summer. "It could make August a tough month," he acknowledged at a Rose Garden press conference.

"What they're going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home," Bush said. "They recognize that the death of innocent people could shake our will . . . So, yes, it could be a bloody - it could be a very difficult August."

In Bush's 50-minute news conference, his third of the year, he said the war-spending bill holds the Iraqi government accountable by including benchmarks, something pushed by Democrats and accepted by the White House. It "reflects a consensus that the Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice," the president said.

Noting that the escalation, or surge, of military force that he ordered in January will not be fully deployed until late June, Bush said, "This summer is going to be a critical time for the new strategy. . . . We're going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months [ahead]." And that, Bush conceded, will mean "more American and Iraqi casualties."

Bush said he is eager, after more than four years of fighting in Iraq, for American forces to assume a "different configuration." Pressed for specifics, the president cited the report of the Iraq Study Group, which proposed that U.S. forces significantly scale back by early 2008 and serve largely as trainers and "force protection" for Iraqi military forces.

In his Rose Garden appearance, the president was pressed about how much longer the public should expect to wait for "significant progress" in Iraq. "We have yet to even get all our troops in place," Bush cautioned. "And so Gen. Petraeus has said, 'Why don't you give us until September and let me report back?' "

Sept. 30 is the end of the federal budget year, and the president's Office of Management and Budget already has made it known it will be seeking roughly $145 billion more for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the following fiscal year.

"By that time we will know whether the surge is working or isn't working," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. "I do not wish for a bad result, but I see the administration finally changing and finally recognizing this can't be won militarily."

The president defended an argument he made this week at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy that winning the war in Iraq is in part a matter of defeating al Qaeda there so the terrorist organization cannot make Iraq a safe haven for future attacks. Bush released a once-classified intelligence finding that Osama bin Laden had asked operatives inside Iraq to plan attacks against the U.S., plans that were foiled.

"They will fight us, and the fundamental question is, will we fight them?" Bush said. "We're fighting them."

Defending his widely criticized stance that Iraq has become the central front in a global war on terror, the president said, "This notion about how this isn't a war on terror, in my view, is naive. I would hope our world hadn't become so cynical that they don't take the threats of al Qaeda seriously, because they're real."

Bush twice admonished reporters that al Qaeda is "a threat to your children."

At times during the press conference, Bush appeared frustrated, combative and tired of answering questions about a lingering war that many in his administration had thought would be far quicker and more decisive. The president seemed especially annoyed when a reporter asked why bin Laden was still free.

"He's hiding," Bush said. "We haven't got him yet."