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Bush critics say U.S. needs more troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD—As a bomb attack narrowly missed one of Iraq's most important Shiite clerics Sunday, U.S. officials in Baghdad fended off criticism that they don't have enough troops or money to make Iraq secure for reconstruction.

The bomb exploded in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, outside the house of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, a relative of a member of Iraq's U.S.-appointed governing council. It killed three of his bodyguards and injured 10 others, including some of the cleric's family members.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, U.S. troops closed a major bridge over the Tigris River while they removed explosives that were found there, Iraqi police said. No one was hurt. And the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was scaling back the number of its workers in Baghdad after receiving warnings that the organization might be a terror target.

The continuing instability in Iraq is encouraging critics of the Bush administration to speak out.

On Sunday, U.S. Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., who has just returned from Iraq, warned in Washington that frustration among the population is seriously undermining the U.S.-led reconstruction effort, and he called for the Bush administration to commit thousands more troops and substantially more money.

"Time is not on our side," McCain said on the NBC program "Meet the Press." "People in 125 degree heat, with no electricity and no fuel, are going to become angry in a big hurry. The money has got to flow. We've got to get these oil pipelines repaired. We've got to get the water flowing."

Bush administration officials responded by reiterating their view that no additional troops are needed in Iraq, while officials with the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad used a news briefing to highlight what they called a significant rebuilding effort that was unimpeded by recent terror attacks.

"In every one of the Iraqi governorates (provinces), there are major reconstruction projects going on," said Charles Heatley, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, who said the value of ongoing projects is about $1 billion.

As an example, Heatley said clean drinking water had been restored to pre-war levels in 15 of 27 of Iraq's major cities, though he acknowledged that Baghdad is not among them.


In other developments, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, declined to comment directly on a report in the Washington Post that the coalition has begun a secret campaign to recruit former agents of Saddam Hussein's feared intelligence service to help locate guerilla fighters.

"I'm not aware of any efforts like that," Myers said on "Meet the Press." "The United States will not use former members of these organizations that were part of the torture the death, the degraded treatment of the Iraqi people. That does not mean we don't want to Iraqi people to help. It just has to be the right kind of Iraqi people."

The restoration of security and essential services is not happening fast enough to stave off deep frustration among Iraqis, said McCain, who added his voice to numerous Democrats who have been criticizing the Bush administration's post-war Iraq policy.

McCain, a Vietnam veteran who has never been afraid to differ with the president on national security matters, is the second high-profile Republican to express doubts, after Sen. Richard Lugar, R. Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

McCain said he feared that a disillusioned Iraqi populace could become a hospitable environment for the foreign Islamic radicals who U.S. officials say are streaming into the country.

"I'm worried about those people coming from outside, but I'm far more worried about the people of Iraq losing confidence," McCain said. "If we can win the people over, then these (foreign terrorists) will be treated as the outsiders they are."

The senator said he believed that at least another division of troops was required to enhance security in Iraq.

But Gen. John Abizaid, the chief commander of Allied Forces in Iraq, said last week that he would welcome more international troops, but "the number of troops, boots per square inch, is not the issue. The real issue is intelligence."

The debate over more troops came a day after a new poll was released indicating that just under half of all Americans would support withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq if they continue to be killed and injured at the current rate. The Newsweek poll released Saturday found that 55 percent of the country is against adding new troops, and nearly two thirds want to reduce spending on Iraq.

The military occupation of Iraq is costing taxpayers about $1 billion a week, but that figure does not include reconstruction costs. Congress authorized $3.2 billion over two years to pay the non-military costs of the occupation, and the coalition also has been using about $2.7 billion of frozen and seized funds from the former regime. The U.N. also has kicked in $1 billion.

But L. Paul Bremer, the chief administrator in Iraq, has said the coalition is spending about $1 billion a month on reconstruction, and he has said it is not clear where much of next year's budget will come from. The country's oil-producing infrastructure, some it damaged by looting, is not being repaired fast enough to produce enough revenue to pay for reconstruction in the near term.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who is mulling a run for president as a Democrat, on Sunday called for the Bush administration to seek a $50 billion appropriation for reconstruction.

"What is the strategy?" he said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We're really doing this off the cuff."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.