WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $120 billion Iraq war budget, after Democrats reluctantly agreed to President George W Bush's demands to strip it of troop withdrawal dates.
The US Senate was expected to also vote on the budget late on Thursday, so the bill could be sent to Bush's desk, ending a prolonged and bitter standoff for control of the war.
The House voted by 280 to 142 to fund the Iraq war through September this year, and also approved an included package of domestic spending including a minimum wage hike and hurricane relief funds.
Thursday's vote came hours after Bush forecast a bloody and difficult few months in Iraq.
"We're going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months to come," Bush told a White House news conference.
"We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties," he said, after the military said two more soldiers had been killed in western Iraq, to bring the monthly toll to 88, and the total US war dead to 3,436.
The Democrats had demanded troop withdrawal timetables for months, and included them in a 124 billion dollar budget vetoed by Bush earlier this month.
But they finally conceded to political reality, as despite controlling both chambers of Congress, they lack the two-thirds majority needed to block a presidential veto.
"It is a political reality, it is not what we want to pass," said House Majority leader Steny Hoyer.
Another senior Democrat, David Obey, who negotiated the deal with the White House added, "This proposition is the best that we can achieve given the votes that we have."
The compromise between Democrats and the White House contains the first congressionally-imposed political and security 'benchmarks' the Iraqi government will be required to meet or risk losing economic aid.
The 18 requirements include demands for a crackdown on militias, the need to train Iraqi troops, the launching of constitutional review processes, and ensuring the fair distribution of Iraq's hydrocarbon riches. The bill also requires Bush to report to Congress on the situation in Iraq in July and September.
The House version of the bill is comprised of two measures, one funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan worth 98 billion dollars and a second including 22 billion dollars in domestic spending.
Bush said earlier the legislation 'reflects a consensus that the Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice.'
The president called on the Iraqi government to repay the mounting sacrifices of US soldiers with political progress, and said his unfolding plan to surge nearly 30,000 troops into Iraq would reach a peak in June.
"This summer is going to be a critical time for the new strategy," Bush added, predicting a torrent of violence as the top US general in Iraq, David Petraeus prepares to report in September of progress of the surge.
"It could make August a tough month, because, you see, what they're going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home," he said.
"It could be a bloody, it could be a very difficult August."
Despite his warnings that an early pullout of US troops from Iraq would be disastrous, Bush said he would have no option but to order a withdrawal if it was demanded by the Iraqi government.
"We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation," he said.
"If they were to say 'leave,' we would leave."
"I would hope that they would recognize that the results would be catastrophic," he added.
"Failure in Iraq will cause generations to suffer, in my judgment. Al-Qaeda will be emboldened."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates meanwhile warned against expectations for rapid progress in Iraq.
"I mean, we're as impatient for this thing to turn in a positive direction as anybody, maybe more so," Gates said.
"But we can't turn it around overnight."