US lawmakers on Thursday voted to fund the Iraq combat in installments of just a few months, defying US President George W. Bush's veto vow in the latest tussle of a political feud over control of the war.
The House of Representatives voted by 221 votes to 205 to release US$43 billion in emergency war funds, but told Bush he must show progress in Iraq in July, before collecting another US$53 billion in financing.
"This legislation ends the blank check for the president's war without end," Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Bush "has grown accustomed to the free hand on Iraq he had before Jan. 4. Those days are over," she added.
The legislation now moves to the more closely divided Senate, where the split financing component appears unlikely to survive, lining up an intense round of legislative bartering over the bill Bush will be asked to sign.
The Democrat-led House had earlier rejected a largely symbolic bid by the majority party's anti-war block to get troops out of Iraq within six months of enactment.
Under-fire Bush earlier fought back hard, after Democrats gleefully pounced on signs of softening Republican backing for his last-ditch bid to surge nearly 30,000 more troops into war-scarred Iraq.
"I'll veto the bill if it is this haphazard, piecemeal funding, and I made that clear," he said after visiting the Defense Department.
Even if Bush vetoes it, the measure sets out the House's bargaining position for the final war-funding bill, which must be worked out with the Senate and the White House. All parties hope to strike a deal by the end of May.
Bush wielded his veto for only the second time last week to strike down a bill tying war funding to a Democratic timeline to start bringing home the 146,000 troops in Iraq in October, from a war which has killed 3,379 of their comrades.
But Democrats sense the president is increasingly vulnerable.
"I think this president is more isolated than any president since Richard Nixon in his final days," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer told reporters, referring to the disgraced former US leader who was forced to resign in 1974.
Bush did make an apparently conciliatory step by saying that Democratic demands that Iraq's government meet certain political and security benchmarks made sense.
But he stopped short of endorsing his rivals' call for robust penalties should the fragile Baghdad administration fall short.
Pelosi countered: "Benchmarks without consequences and enforcement are meaningless."
House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said: "One can only describe today's proceedings as grossly negligent."
Vice President Dick Cheney, who just visited Iraq, told Fox News that the benchmarks wrangle was simply "Washington talk" and noted Iraqis surely felt more pressured to act by raging violence than threats from Congress.
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