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President George Bush and the Democratic party-controlled US house of representatives are headed for a collision with the latter passing a war spending bill requiring Americans troop to begin withdrawal in October. Bush has already threatened to veto the $124 billion bill that was passed by 218 to 208 votes on Wednesday night. The passage of the bill is the clearest signal yet since the invasion of Iraq four years ago that the Democrats are no longer willing to give Bush a wide berth. The US senate is expected to pass a similar legislation on Thursday.

Once it is passed by the senate as well, the bill will be sent to the president to be signed into a law, something which he is not going to do. He has steadfastly rejected any specific timetable for withdrawal, arguing that is a military decision and ought to be taken by the commanders on the ground.

While a majority of Democrats called the bill an essential step to end the debacle in Iraq, members of the Republican party called it a recipe for defeat as well as an invitation to radical Islam. The Democrats are counting on widespread disenchantment with the war in Iraq in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election.

There is increasing perception that unencumbered by his own political fortune since this is his last term, Bush will maintain his unyielding position on what is arguably his single biggest failure.

The bill makes the war funding conditional on the Bush administration accepting a specific timetable to pull out of an Iraq devastated by a Shia-Sunni civil war. In a sense it is the strongest assertion in the last four years by the Democrats of their complete disagreement with the war for which most of them voted in the first place.

With the 2008 presidential election barely two years away, the Democrats appear determined to hammer home their message against the war even while carefully balancing that with the demand of the military. Hence passing the war-spending bill, albeit with a timeframe, is their way of saying they support the military but not the administration that wants to expose them to mortal dangers in Iraq for an indefinite period.

All parties in Iraq have been watching the political wrangling in the US with a great deal of interest. A large number of Iraqis, both Shia and Sunni, might see an opportunity in an early US troop withdrawal to reiterate their own supremacy.

Of course, being a minority population of less than 40 per cent and with their strongest symbol in Saddam Hussein out of the picture now, the Sunnis have a very difficult future ahead.

The Shias, who constitute some 60 per cent of Iraq's population, are demanding their fair share after being oppressed by the Hussein regime for some three decades. Both have a direct interest in when and if the US withdraws its forces.


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