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Iraq.: U.S. Senators Accuse Pentagon Of 'Losing The Peace'

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz spent yesterday defending the Bush administration from allegations by U.S. lawmakers that Washington is losing the peace in Iraq. As RFE/RL reports, the charges came from both sides of the political aisle.

Washington, 23 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Washington's No. 2 defense official was asked hard questions yesterday by U.S. senators who voiced concern that after a brilliant military victory, the United States risks "losing the peace" in Iraq.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz faced a skeptical chorus of bipartisan members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The hearing was the first of what is expected to be a series on Washington's plans for the future of Iraq.

Even members of President George W. Bush's Republican Party accused the administration of failing to spell out its humanitarian, security, and political plans for postwar Iraq.

Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, said the administration clearly had not planned for the chaos of postwar Iraq as well as it had organized the military campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in three weeks.

"This military success, however, was only the first step in winning the war in Iraq. Victory is at risk unless we ensure that effective post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Iraq succeed over the long term. The measure of success in Iraq that matters most is what kind of country and institutions we leave behind," Lugar said.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, echoed Lugar's comments. Biden said continuing chaos and violence are starting to make Iraq look like Afghanistan, which the senator said Washington has yet to stabilize, despite ousting its repressive Taliban regime in late 2001.

"What we saw in Afghanistan and what unfortunately we may be seeing again in Iraq is that for all our success in projecting power, we are less adept at 'staying power.' We know how to win wars, but Mr. Secretary, with all due respect, so far we haven't gotten off to as stellar a start, in my view, in winning the peace," Biden said.

Biden added that his overall impression is that U.S. planners appear to have been surprised by many developments following the war -- namely, the wide-scale looting, the rise of Shi'ite Muslims, and the general chaos in the country.

Biden, citing prewar calls by some officials for a much larger troop presence to police the country, urged the administration to consider sending in more police or troops to help stabilize Iraq.

Wolfowitz, however, flatly rejected the criticism. He said the military plan had been based on small troop numbers in order to maintain tactical flexibility. In the end, he said that flexibility surprised Hussein, with his military unable to respond quickly enough or to undertake acts of sabotage, such as destroying oil wells, engineering food or refugee crises, or using weapons of mass destruction against U.S. troops.

Wolfowitz also said the military plan saved the lives of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. "In judging the success or failure of the military plan for dealing with the aftermath of the collapse of the regime, one cannot judge it against a standard of unachievable perfection," he said. "There is no plan that could have achieved all the extraordinary speed of this one, and at the same time been able to flood the country with military policemen."

Wolfowitz said the military plan worked even better than U.S. officials had hoped. He compared the victory to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, or the liberation of Paris from the Nazis after World War II.

But he acknowledged that security -- 67 days after the first coalition troops crossed into Iraq from Kuwait -- is still at risk from former members of Hussein's Ba'athist regime. He said a regime that had "tens of thousands of thugs and war criminals on its payroll" does not quickly disappear.

"The people who created the mass graves that are now being uncovered in Iraq still represent a threat to stability that was not eliminated automatically when the statues came tumbling down in Baghdad," Wolfowitz said.

He said peacekeeping in Iraq could not be compared to similar activities in Bosnia or Haiti, calling it instead a combination of duties that also involves low-intensity combat. For example, Wolfowitz cited incidents that had occurred the previous day in Iraq:

-- In Baghdad, he said coalition forces had raided a Ba'ath Party meeting, detaining nine members.

-- In Al-Fallujah, in north-central Iraq, which Wolfowitz called a "hotbed of Ba'athist activity," coalition forces killed two Iraqis and detained one as they tried to attack a checkpoint.

-- In the same area, three Iraqi snipers engaged coalition troops and a Bradley fighting vehicle was disabled by a rocket-propelled grenade fired from a mosque.

-- And in Al-Kud, Wolfowitz said coalition forces engaged 20 enemy fighters, killing two, wounding one, and capturing nine.

All of this, he repeated, took place in just 24 hours. "But that level of activity illustrates the continued hostile activity that we encounter, much of it apparently associated with elements of the old regime," Wolfowitz said.

But confronted with charges that coalition forces would need more troops to police the country, Wolfowitz said simply that it is impossible to know what the country will need three months down the line.

Senators on the committee also criticized the pace of setting up an interim Iraqi government. The top U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said on 21 May that the creation of an interim government will be delayed more than a month, until mid-July.

Wolfowitz said the situation in Iraq has improved and is better than it was before the war. But in his written testimony, he said, "If the situation in Iraq is somewhat messy now, it's likely to seem even messier as Iraqis sort out their political process."

But he said some positive examples should be noted. He said the city of Karbala is now enjoying security from U.S. Marines who have helped to establish a local governing council made up of a cross section of local leaders. He said that while the council contains Shi'ite Muslim leaders, it has pledged to forge a secular agenda.

Wolfowitz also lauded the UN Security Council's approval yesterday of a U.S.-sponsored resolution to end economic sanctions against Iraq. He said the move will immediately improve the lives of Iraqis and will also open the door to further international contributions to their security and humanitarian needs.