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Friday, May 16

Congress steps up criticism of rebuilding in Iraq

By Jon Frandsen | GNS

WASHINGTON - Members of Congress stepped up criticism of the administration Thursday for not acting quicker to clamp down on increasing lawlessness in Iraq, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Pentagon still is deciding how many troops are needed.

``Common sense tells me that we should have anticipated the need for forces capable of providing security in urban areas,'' said House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., at the first congressional hearing on Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

``We should certainly have been able to deploy such forces by now,'' Hyde added.

While Hyde and others questioned Bush administration officials about why they were not better prepared for the widely anticipated difficulties in stabilizing Iraq, Rumsfeld held a news conference at the Pentagon and pledged that U.S. and allied forces would ``provide security in that country as best as is possible.''

However, Rumsfeld said commanders in Iraq were still evaluating the situation and had not yet made recommendations.

Congress is growing increasingly unhappy about both the pace of the reconstruction effort - especially in terms of security - and the scanty details the administration is providing lawmakers about postwar plans.

Hyde noted, for example, that ``the very charter of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs is still classified as national security information.'' He was referring to the organization, which is under Rumsfeld's control, that has been criticized for how it has managed the rebuilding effort.

Hyde announced that he was asking the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to go to Iraq to assess all levels of the stabilization and reconstruction effort. The Illinois Republican also warned Defense Department official Douglas Feith that the committee expected ``robust cooperation.''

Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, acknowledged some severe difficulties in keeping law and order in some urban areas, especially parts of Baghdad, but said more than half of Iraq's provinces have been declared ``permissive'' or relatively safe. Feith blamed both Baath Party members loyal to Saddam and ``criminal elements'' for looting, sniper incidents, armed robberies and car jackings.

Overall reconstruction efforts are going as well as can be expected, Feith said, given that President Bush just declared the combat phase of the invasion over on May 1.

He and other officials credited administration planning, at least in part, for the fact that the disasters that many analysts had predicted never materialized.

``There is no food crisis in Iraq,'' he said. ``...There is no health crisis in Iraq. ...There have been no widespread human rights abuses since the war.''

Wendy Chamberlin, one of the State Department architects of relief and rebuilding efforts, said action was slow in part because the conditions of schools, utilities, food programs and even oil shipping ports were miserable long before the war began.

While lawmakers were sympathetic about the enormity of the task, the administration officials could not dispel the notion among members of Congress that planning and execution of postwar efforts were far from meticulous.

Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., asked how much money had been spent on reconstruction efforts to date. When Feith began explaining the many agencies involved in spending money, Delahunt interrupted and asked if the administration could at least provide a range for the current cost.

``No,'' Feith said.

He offered the same answer when Delahunt asked for ``best case and worst case'' scenarios for the number of troops that might be needed and for how long.

In other developments:

- Rumsfeld and Feith flatly denied reports that U.S. troops had been given shoot-to-kill orders in Baghdad.

- Feith said news media in Turkey misinterpreted comments made by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that alarmed Turkish officials. Contrary to the reports, Wolfowitz did not warn that ties with the United States would be in jeopardy unless Turkey apologized for not allowing U.S. troops to use Turkey as a staging area during the war. Feith said the United States regards Turkey as an important ally despite its disappointment over the decision.

- Feith charged that Iran was behind calls for a Shiite Muslim ``theocracy'' in Iraq similar to the one in Tehran, but he said ``popular support for clerical rule is narrow'' even among the Shiite majority.