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Tuesday, May 18

Senators: War hinges on winning back support of Iraqi, U.S. public

By Jon Frandsen | GNS

WASHINGTON - The United States is in danger of losing the war in Iraq because of the rapidly eroding confidence of Iraqis and Americans alike, senators of both parties warned the Bush administration Tuesday.

The recent disclosure of American soldiers abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison and the deteriorating security situation in the country are making Iraqis resentful of U.S. forces. Those developments have also prompted Americans to question how the war is being conducted.

``The window of opportunity in America is closing,'' Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

``And fellas ... once the folks decide this ain't going to work, I don't care how brilliant any of us are, I don't care how wonderful any plan we have is, it ain't going to work,'' Biden added.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., addressed the other side of the equation by pointing to polls in Iraq that he said showed 82 percent of the public opposed the U.S. military presence there. And that poll by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority was taken before the release of incendiary photographs of American military police abusing Iraqi prisoners.

``If we lose the Iraqi people, we've lost,'' Hagel said.

Republican Sen. George Voinovich said his constituents in Ohio are growing worried about how much the war will cost, why there is not broader international support and how long U.S. troops will be there. ``Are we really leveling with the American people?'' Voinovich asked.

``The American people thought - and we were led to believe - we'd be looked upon as liberators and that (the Iraqis) will be glad to have us there. But it appears to me that the sooner we get out, the happier (Iraqis) are going to be,'' Voinovich said.

Wolfowitz, who was among those who predicted strong Iraqi support of U.S. troops and other rosy results from last year's invasion, has been criticized for not planning the occupation more carefully and for not acknowledging errors.

But that changed a little Tuesday, when he admitted several major miscalculations.

Wolfowitz told Voinovich that one of them was writing a plan that called for a period of occupation ``for much longer than it turned out the Iraqis would have patience for.''

Biden, a supporter of the war but a fierce critic of Wolfowitz, said the admission was crucial.

``I think that gives the American people some confidence. ... Up to now it is has been, `Steady as she goes. Everything is OK,''' Biden said.

But Biden, Hagel, committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and others said salvaging the effort to build a democracy in Iraq was dependent on taking some immediate steps. These include:

- Winning United Nations backing, through a Security Council resolution, of the transitional government that will take power July 1.

- Greater international involvement on the ground, perhaps through NATO.

- Having U.S. officials and incoming members of the Iraqi transitional government ``rehearse'' potentially sticky situations and disagreements - especially major U.S. military moves - before power actually changes hands.

Armitage said he was now certain that the Security Council would pass such a resolution. He and Wolfowitz promised a careful study of the other suggestions.