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Tuesday, July 29

Senate panel hits Defense officials with questions on Iraq

By Barbara Slavin | USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - A testy Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz Tuesday on the Bush administration's reasons for the war in Iraq and the mounting costs of winning the peace. Members of both parties complained that the administration was undermining its case by failing to tell the truth.

In one of several exchanges that bordered on a breach of the Senate's reputation for civility, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said to Wolfowitz: ``Give me a break, will you? When will you guys start to be honest with us?''

Biden, who voted last year to authorize the invasion of Iraq, said he thought the job of reconstructing Iraq was ``doable,'' but would require ``tens of billions of dollars'' and ``well over 100,000 troops'' for an indefinite period.

``If you're not thinking in those terms,'' he said, looking at Wolfowitz, acting Army Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane and Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, ``none of you should have your job.''

Neither Wolfowitz nor Bolten would give a public estimate of the likely costs of Iraqi reconstruction beyond the $7.3 billion budgeted for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Wolfowitz said the administration will eventually ask Congress for more money, but he said the amount will depend on whether countries such as Turkey and Pakistan provide troops to replace some of the nearly 150,000 U.S. soldiers now in Iraq. Wolfowitz said costs will also depend on how quickly Iraqis can be trained to take the place of Americans guarding key installations.

Keane said the number of Americans in Iraq will remain ``about the same'' at least through March. The administration is spending nearly $4 billion a month to keep U.S. forces in Iraq.

A key architect of the administration's case for invading Iraq, Wolfowitz became the focal point for committee anger at what many complained was poor planning for post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and a reluctance to concede that costs will be much higher than Americans were led to believe.

``The war was a lot better planned than the peace,'' said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Another Republican, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, praised aspects of the U.S. performance in Iraq, but urged the administration to be ``more forthright'' about the costs.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the likely price tag will be at least $45 billion next year, twice the amount the federal government spends on higher education or the National Institutes of Health. Her constituents, she said, were worried about rising U.S. casualties. ``We've got a lot of problems with this in my state,'' she said.

Wolfowitz, who visited Iraq earlier this month, admitted last week that he was surprised by the level of Iraqi resistance and the dilapidated state of Iraqi infrastructure. But he told the committee that consolidating the U.S. victory is essential because it is ``the central battle in the global war on terror.''

That statement aroused the anger of a number of committee members, who said the administration had failed to prove a connection between Saddam's regime and anti-U.S. terrorist groups. ``We haven't seen the proof of any linkage between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida,'' said Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.

Chafee noted that Wolfowitz had not mentioned weapons of mass destruction in his prepared testimony, even though the fear that Saddam might give such weapons to terrorists was the key administration rationale for the war.

``We're seeing shifting justifications for what we're doing there,'' said Chafee, who pointed out that Wolfowitz dwelt instead on Saddam's human rights atrocities. If that was the main reason for overturning the regime, Chafee asked, why was the Bush administration not doing more to remove Liberian President Charles Taylor, implicated in the death or torture of half a million people?

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., noted terrorist activities in Afghanistan as well as Africa and the Middle East outside Iraq, and asked Wolfowitz, ``Are you sure we have our eye on the ball?''

A number of committee members also pressed administration officials to go to the United Nations to seek a resolution that would entice more countries to contribute troops and financial aid to Iraq. ``We know that coalition efforts in Iraq must undergo further internationalization to be successful and affordable,'' said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the committee chairman.

Wolfowitz said the administration would be willing to go back to the U.N., but would not support a resolution that would transfer substantial authority away from the U.S.-led administration.