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Bush signs Iraq spending bill

But Democrats say the drive to bring U.S. troops home is far from over.

WASHINGTON — President Bush signed a bill Friday to pay for military operations in Iraq after a bitter struggle with Democrats in Congress who sought unsuccessfully to tie the money to U.S. troop withdrawals.

Bush signed the bill into law at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, where he is spending part of the Memorial Day weekend. In announcing the signing, White House spokesman Tony Fratto noted that it came 109 days after Bush sent his emergency spending request to Congress.

Bush had rejected an earlier bill because it contained a timetable for withdrawing troops. While the measure he signed establishes political goals for the Iraqi government and ties U.S. reconstruction aid to so-called benchmarks, Bush retains authority over the funds regardless of how the government in Baghdad performs.

“Rather than mandate arbitrary timetables for troop withdrawals or micromanage our military commanders, this legislation enables our servicemen and women to follow the judgment of commanders on the ground,” Bush said in a statement.

“This important bill also provides a clear roadmap to help the Iraqis secure their country and strengthen their young democracy,” he said. “Iraqis need to demonstrate measurable progress on a series of benchmarks for improved security, political reconciliation and governance. These tasks will be difficult for this young democracy, but we are confident they will continue to make progress on the goals they have set for themselves.”

The president’s signature on this measure, however, doesn’t end debate on Capitol Hill over the administration’s war policy — a dispute that will heat up again this fall.

“I think the president’s policy is going to begin to unravel now,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who expressed disappointment that the bill did not force an end to U.S. participation in the conflict.

Democrats say the drive to bring U.S. troops home is far from over.

“We’re going to keep coming back and coming back,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic caucus.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell predicted a change, and said Bush would show the way.

“I think that the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president to lead it,” McConnell said. “In other words, I think he, himself, has certainly indicated he’s not happy with where we are. And I think we are looking for a new direction in the fall.”

McConnell also emphasized that the Iraqis need to make progress. “We’ve given the Iraqi government an opportunity here to have a normal country. And so far, they’ve been a great disappointment to members of the Senate on both sides,” he said.

The war spending bill provides about $95 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through Sept. 30 and billions in domestic projects, including more than $6 billion for hurricane relief. The House voted 280-142 Thursday night to pass the bill, followed by a 80-14 vote in the Senate.

In the months ahead, lawmakers will vote repeatedly on whether U.S. troops should stay and whether Bush has the authority to continue the war.

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