WASHINGTON — In a sign of increasing unease among congressional Republicans over the war in Iraq, the Senate today is to consider a Republican proposal that calls for Iraqi forces to take the lead next year in securing the nation and for the Bush administration to lay out its strategy for ending the war.
The proposal from Sen. Bill Frist, the majority leader, and Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, also requires the Bush administration to provide extensive new quarterly reports to Congress on subjects like progress in bringing in other countries to help stabilize Iraq.
The plan, which will be debated as part of a Pentagon policy measure that also contains new limits on the legal rights of terror detainees, stops short of a competing Democratic proposal that moves toward establishing dates for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq. But it is built upon the Democratic approach and makes it clear that senators of both parties are increasingly eager for Iraqis to take control of their own country in coming months and open the door to removing American troops.
Warner said the underlying message was, "we really mean business, Iraqis, get on with it." The senator, an influential party voice on military issues, said he did not interpret the wording of his plan as critical of the administration, describing it as a "forward-looking" proposal.
"It is not a question of satisfaction or dissatisfaction," he said. "This reflects what has to be done."
Democrats said the proposal represented a shift in Republican sentiment on Iraq and was an acknowledgment of growing public unrest with the course of the war and the administration's frequent call for patience.
"I think it signals the fact that the American people are demanding change, and the Republicans see that that's something that they have to follow," said Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader.
Frist said an important reason for the Republican proposal was to offer an alternative to the Democratic call for a withdrawal timetable. "The real objective was to get out of this time line of cutting and running that the Democrats have in their amendment," he said.
Warner said he decided to take the Democratic proposal and edit it to his satisfaction in an effort to find common ground between the parties on the issue.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., said he saw the proposal as a potential "turning point" in congressional deliberation over Iraq and related issues.
The competing amendments include some of the most specific and expansive congressional statements on the war in months and are being proposed for inclusion in a measure that also wrestles with the issues of treatment of terror detainees and their rights in American courts.
On that issue, a group of senators said Monday night that they had reached a compromise on the contentious issue of allowing detainees access to federal courts. The Senate voted last week to prohibit those being held to challenge conditions surrounding their detention in federal court despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. The Senate is scheduled to vote today on an effort to reverse that decision.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the author of the initial plan, said Monday that he had negotiated a compromise that would allow detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to challenge their designation as enemy combatants in federal courts and also allow some appeals of convictions handed down by the military.
"We have brought legal certainty to legal confusion," said Graham, who said detainees would still be barred from mounting a wide array of court challenges regarding their treatment or the conditions of their confinement.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said the compromise had eased some of his previous objections to the restrictions on the detainees.
On the Iraq resolutions, the Democratic and Republican proposals say that "2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq."
The plan also seeks to put pressure on the Iraqis to find ways to resolve their internal political turmoil, saying the "administration should tell the leaders of all groups and political parties in Iraq that they need to make the compromises necessary to achieve the broad-based and sustainable political settlement that is essential for defeating the insurgency."
The White House is also directed "to explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq." Democrats have complained persistently that the administration has failed to outline a plan.
Lawmakers also seek much more specific regular reports from the administration covering "the current military mission and the diplomatic, political, economic and military measures, if any, that are being or have been undertaken to successfully complete or support that mission."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said the provision would improve accountability. "The president needs to report to the American people and leaders in Congress as this war develops," Durbin said. "It shouldn't be a matter of haphazard congressional committee hearings."
The primary differences between the party approaches regards fixing dates for a withdrawal. The Democratic plan called for the administration to provide "estimated dates" for redeployment of American troops once a series of conditions is met, with the caveat that "unexpected contingencies may arise."
But Republicans said that provision was cutting too close to setting a schedule for withdrawal. "We are not going to have any timetable," said Warner.