By Naveed Mansoori

The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act (HR 1591), approved by both houses of Congress, epitomizes the nationwide debate over American Foreign Policy and promises to be the source of continued dialogue in our nation’s capital. The bill, which includes funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, marks August 2008 as the official withdrawal date for U.S. soldiers.

But in order for withdrawal to take place, the $128 billion bill requires the president to certify that Iraq is making substantial progress.

U.S. forces must meet certain political and military benchmarks, such as empowering the struggling Iraqi Security Forces, pursuing reconciliation initiatives, and creating a commity of ideologies among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

Representative Sam Farr (D-Santa Cruz), a member of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, voted for HR 1591 and believes that U.S. involvement in Iraq has tainted America’s image in the international community.

“Our bill has been written based on what we think is the appropriate solution for how to get out of Iraq,” Farr said. “We think the president has been naive and bullheaded and has no position to stay the course and keep [occupation] going despite the fact that Iraqis don’t want us and the international community doesn’t want us. The world opinion of Iraq is hurting us in all categories…what we’re doing in Iraq is creating problems.”

Andrew Stoddard, a spokesperson for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), explained that the bill followed the guidelines of the Iraq Study Group’s report, and elaborated on the necessity of a timetable in relation to this bill.

“If there is no timetable signed saying that the Iraqi government has to handle this by a certain date, you end up with an open-ended commitment,” Stoddard said. “With these benchmarks, we are holding [Iraqis] accountable for…[the] future of their country.”

President Bush has stated repeatedly that he will veto any bill mandating a timetable for accomplishments or a specific date for withdrawal. The president has also condemned the Democratic Party for inter-party quarreling and for a lack of focus on soldiers abroad.

“Members of Congress say they support the troops,” Bush said in a statement on HR 1591. “Now they need to show that support in deed, as well as in word. Members of Congress are entitled to their views and should express them. Yet debating these differences should not come at the expense of funding our troops.”

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate’s Republican leader, said that giving a withdrawal date is “the surest way of guaranteeing defeat.” McConnell went on to say the bill is defeatist and tells our enemies Congress believes the war is already lost.

Amaya Smith, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, commented on the state of HR 1591.

“We feel like this is a strong bill the Democrats have introduced,” Smith said. “The ball is in the president’s court. If he doesn’t sign it, he’s cutting funding for our troops.”

In a statement about the bill, Pelosi explained the ultimate goal of the bill.

“The Iraq Accountability Act takes a giant step toward ending the war in Iraq and the president’s open-ended commitment to a war without end,” Pelosi said. “This legislation holds the Iraqi government accountable by establishing a timetable for the benchmarks already endorsed by President Bush and provides new direction in Iraq the American people have called for.”