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Coleman opposes, Klobuchar for Iraq bill

Removing troops from Iraq starting Oct. 1 comes before knowing if the current "surge" works, says U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. But the United States has had four years to set in place a new democracy in Iraq, and in light of ongoing civil unre...

Removing troops from Iraq starting Oct. 1 comes before knowing if the current "surge" works, says U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

But the United States has had four years to set in place a new democracy in Iraq, and in light of ongoing civil unrest, it's time to bring the troops home, says U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 51-46 on a $124 billion emergency supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Democrat-crafted bill that also begins withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by Oct. 1 with a goal of a complete pullout six months later.

The measure passed the Democrat-held House on Wednesday by a 218-208 vote, sending it to certain veto by President Bush, with no margin for overriding it in either chamber.

Coleman voted against the measure, while Klobuchar supported it.

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"I would hope we simply deliver the supplemental, get the money to the troops, which we all agree that they need," Coleman said Thursday in a telephone interview with Minnesota reporters about what should be done once Bush issues his veto.

Before talking with reporters, Coleman spoke on the Senate floor, saying more time is needed before making a judgment that the war is lost, noting that Americans are running on one clock and the Iraqis on a different and slower one.

"This bill that we pass with a timeline for surrender does not make America safer," Coleman said on the floor. "I'm not for an open-ended commitment; I'm not for a blank check ... but we'll need a Plan B."

Coleman added that a certain timetable "for surrender, telling our enemies the war is lost, hurts our warriors on the front line. It's a path I could not follow, a path that America shall not follow."

He told reporters he hopes a bill will quickly pass with the money needed to support the troops, and the debate over when to pull them out will continue through the summer. But, Coleman said, he hopes that Congress waits until September when Gen. David Petraeus reports to Congress the effectiveness of the 20,000-troop surge called by Bush two months ago.

So far, only three of five brigades of the surge are in place, said Coleman, who this past weekend traveled to Iraq where he visited with officials there and members of the Minnesota National Guard now stationed there on extended duty.

"And then we'll have to make some very critical decisions," Coleman said of Petraeus' September report. "Are we still in the crosshairs of a civil war? If so, how do we get ourselves out of it? What's the Plan B?"

Contrary to what Democrats are saying, the war is not lost, he said, adding that he's seen improvements since the last time he visited Iraq in December.

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"I believe the people of Minnesota have had enough of this war," the Minnesota Republican said. "And yet I believe my responsibility is to do what I can to ensure that we're not at greater risk of al-Qaeda, greater risk of terrorism."

On the Senate floor, Coleman said the Iraqis have a role between now and September to begin taking over responsibilities.

"If the Iraqis haven't done what they need to do in reconciliation, we're going to have to figure out a way to get Americans out of the crosshairs of civil war," he said. "We will deploy our troops if this surge doesn't work. We'll put them outside of the central area. And, in the end, we'll have to look at a Plan B."

Much depends on how well the Iraqis take over matters to quell civil unrest and to begin reconciliation between factions, he said, but simply pulling out U.S. troops only emboldens insurgents and al-Qaeda.

"I do not believe that we will be safer by saying the war is lost and simply pulling out our troops," Coleman said. "They (the troops) will come home, but we will be at greater risk. I believe that, and in the end I'll live with that."

Klobuchar, in a statement, said the bill not only begins sending U.S. troops home, but also includes important funding for veterans and for drought-stricken farmers.

"We have an obligation to wrap our arms around those who serve and sacrifice for us," Klobuchar said. "I believe we can do much better for our troops and this bill is the first step in realizing that. The very best thing we can do for our troops is to get this policy right. This means sending a clear message to the Iraqi government that we are not staying there indefinitely."

The legislation provides $100 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- $4 billion more than the president requested, she said.

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It also includes a change of course in Iraq policy, the Minnesota DFL said, with redeployment of troops from Iraq beginning no later than Oct. 1, with a goal of completing withdrawal within 180 days. After that time, a limited number of forces will remain to help train, protect and equip Iraqi forces and perform targeted counter-terrorism operations.

Klobuchar also voted for an increase in funding in health care for wounded veterans. It allocates more than $5 billion in health care funds for returning troops and veterans.

"When our soldiers signed up to serve our country, there wasn't a waiting line. When they come home, they should not be shunted to the end of the line. These are first-class soldiers -- and they should be treated as first-class soldiers when they come home, with the benefits and support they deserve," Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar also supported efforts for Minnesota farmers who suffered from floods, droughts and other natural disasters. The bill provides $3.5 billion to compensate farmers for a portion of their crop and livestock losses over the past two years.

"Minnesota farmers have been hit with heavy losses for two consecutive years," Klobuchar said. "Our state has waited too long for this emergency funding and I am pleased that the Senate has finally responded to the urgent need for assistance."

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