WASHINGTON - A sharply divided House brushed aside a veto threat last night and passed legislation that would order President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by October.

The 218-208 vote came as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told lawmakers that Iraq remained gripped by violence but was showing some signs of improvement.

The vote guaranteed a historic showdown with Bush, the first on the war since Democrats took control of Congress in January.

"Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear enemy and no clear strategy for success," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The $124.2-billion war-funding bill would require troop withdrawals to begin Oct. 1 with the goal of completing the pullout six months later.

Bush has promised to veto the bill and has enough Republican votes to sustain his objection.

Petraeus said that additional forces recently sent to Iraq are yielding mixed results and that the strategy needs more time to work. *