After four years, more than 3,100 American lives lost and $380 billion spent, I believe the time has come to change course in Iraq.

Congress gave approval for this war by voting in October 2002 for the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq. I believe the way to change course in Iraq is to change the terms of this authorization. That is why I have introduced a resolution that will put an expiration date -- of Dec. 31, 2007 -- on the authorization.

This will redefine the American mission in Iraq, and require that the president return to Congress if he seeks to renew the war authorization. It recognizes that conditions have changed since 2002: Saddam Hussein is gone. And an elected Iraqi government has been established.

This resolution is not a call for a precipitous withdrawal. But it sets a 10-month limit -- a reasonable time to stage an orderly redeployment while recasting our mission in Iraq. And it allows a small U.S. force to remain in Iraq. The mission will be limited to:

  • Training, equipping and advising Iraqi security and police forces.
  • Force protection and security for U.S. armed forces and civilian personnel.
  • Support of Iraqi security forces, for border security and protection, to be carried out with the minimum forces required.
  • Targeted counter-terrorism operations against Al-Qaida and foreign fighters in Iraq.
  • Logistical support related to these activities.

Clear majorities in the Senate and in the House of Representatives have spoken out against the president's planned troop escalation in Iraq. I believe that putting an expiration date on the 2002 war authorization is the next logical step.

Putting an end date on the authorization will meet several important goals.

It enables the Congress to forcefully tell the president that it disapproves of his Iraq escalation. It signals to the Iraqi government that the American military commitment is not open-ended. And it demonstrates that the Congress is in sync with the will of the American people.

Americans expressed their dissatisfaction with this war in the November mid-term election; power changed hands in Congress as a result. The American people continue to register their sustained disapproval, in poll after poll. Two polls released in mid-February are emblematic: An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 63 percent of Americans oppose the president's escalation. And a USA Today poll found that an equal percentage of Americans want Congress to set a timetable to pull troops out of Iraq by the end of 2008.

America's weariness with this war is well-founded. Iraq is in chaos, in the throes of a complex civil war. Sunni fighting Shiite. Shiite fighting Sunni. Foreign fighters. Al-Qaida. Every day we learn of new attacks. Car bombs. Roadside bombs. Assassinations. Mortar attacks. Downed helicopters. And now the headlines tell us that the enemy is using chlorine in car and truck bomb attacks against civilians. There are new casualties every day, and no end in sight.

American troops were sent to Iraq four years ago as liberators. Today, the question becomes: Can an outside occupying force end a bitter civil war? I don't believe it can. America's closest allies, the British, have begun to draw down their forces. It is time for the United States to do the same.

It is time to recognize that putting our brave men and women in the cross-fire of bloody sectarian fighting is a mistake. It is time to declare that today's mission is not the mission approved by Congress in 2002. At the core, Iraq's problems can be resolved only through political accommodation among the Iraqi people -- not through American arms.

The best way to recognize this fact, and to start to untangle the Iraqi knot, is to put an expiration date on the original war resolution. It is simple. It is concise. And it is time.

Dianne Feinstein is a Democrat who represents California in the U.S. Senate. She wrote this article for the Mercury News.