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Senate Democrats fail to pass troop withdrawal legislation

WASHINGTON - The Senate rejected legislation yesterday that would have ordered most US troops home from Iraq in nine months, culminating a losing week for Democrats who failed to push through any antiwar proposal.

The vote, 47 to 47, fell 13 votes short of the 60 needed to pass.

"We're going to continue to lose lives and squander resources while they [the Iraqis] dawdle," said Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who sponsored the bill.

Republicans blocked the measure, contending it would have dire consequences for the region and usurp control of the war from seasoned generals. Last week, General David Petraeus, the top US military commander in Iraq, recommended to Congress and President Bush that some 130,000 troops be kept there through next summer - a slight decrease from the more than 160,000 troops there now.

"It would be a very overt rejection of General Petraeus's leadership," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. The military commanders "have earned the ability to carry on their mission," he later added.

Blocking the bill were 43 Republicans, Connecticut independent Joseph Lieberman, and Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Nelson and Pryor say they are reluctant to embrace a timetable on troop withdrawals, but Dodd said he refuses to support anything short of cutting of funding for combat.

Three Republicans - Senators Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska - voted with 44 Democrats in favor of the bill.

Petraeus's Capitol Hill testimony is widely seen as a primary factor in shoring up support among Republicans, which had deteriorated steadily throughout summer. While still nervous about the ongoing violence in Iraq and unpopularity of the war, many GOP members say they now remain hopeful that another year of combat will stabilize Iraq and prevent US troops from returning to the region a decade later.

"If we leave, we will be back - in Iraq and elsewhere - in many more desperate fights to protect our security and at an even greater cost in American lives and treasure," said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, a presidential candidate and the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

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