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Two Senators say U.S. troops likely to remain in Iraq for years

WASHINGTON—The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the panel's senior Democrat called Wednesday for President Bush "to level" with the American people and tell them the United States will have to maintain a major presence in Iraq for years.

In some of the strongest criticism of the administration's Iraq policy yet from Capitol Hill, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the panel's chairman, and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., its ranking Democrat, challenged Bush to solicit more help from NATO—including France and Germany, both of which opposed the war_ and from the United Nations to stabilize the shattered country.

The pair, who along with panel member Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., visited Iraq last week, said the administration and Congress must come up with a long-term plan for Iraq, a move that probably would require stationing many U.S. troops there for years, as well as billions in reconstruction money.

Lugar's and Biden's high-profile criticism in separate appearances on Capitol Hill underscored growing concern in Congress about the Bush administration's policy on postwar Iraq, and their flexing of bipartisan muscle signals the likelihood of more assertive oversight from Congress in the months ahead.

"This is not a partisan thing," Biden said. "There's a gigantic gap between expectation and reality in terms of what the administration, in my view, had anticipated."

Lugar said it was time for Congress and the administration to "level" with the American people about the commitment it would take to stabilize and rebuild the country. He indicated that he plans to begin hearings on the administration's plans for postwar Iraq in coming weeks.

"This idea that we will be in just as long as we need to and not a day more—we've got to get over that rhetoric! It is rubbish!" Lugar said. "We're going to be there a long time."

Biden was even more emphatic.

"The notion that we can get down to 30,000 Americans at the end of the year, as (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld suggested six weeks ago, I think is absolute fantasy, absolute fantasy. We need to get more troops in. They need to be more effective. We need to take a look at how we get more NATO forces in," Biden said.

"I met with General—Secretary-General Lord Robertson, the head of NATO, in Jordan. And he says what everybody else says: NATO's willing to step in. Nobody's asking them. Nobody's asking them. We're told that we are imploring the Indians and the Bangladeshis. I have great respect for the Indians and Bangladeshis, but they are not NATO," Biden said.

Lugar said NATO assistance in Iraq was imperative, and called on the administration "to quickly patch up the NATO relationship" and "quickly take up all offers by our European friends, France and Germany included."

Biden said that "maybe the most important impression I came with is that our folks on the ground really are doing a tremendous job. But no one back home understands how monumental this undertaking is going to be, how long it's going to take, how much it will cost, how many troops it will take. The president needs to level with the American people about this."

Lugar and Biden faulted the administration for its assumptions about postwar Iraq, including the "decapitation theory" that the police force and the army would continue to function effectively if Saddam Hussein and his regime were removed.

Instead, the army and police force disintegrated as U.S. troops approached Baghdad, leading to days of anarchy, looting and disruption to the country's electrical and water facilities.

Biden said it would take 73,000 police to stabilize the country and five years to train an Iraqi force. Lugar said that until those forces were trained, it would fall to American forces to perform the task.

The Pentagon is opposed to adding more troops. Last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the House Armed Services Committee that "the forces we are sustaining are about right for the challenges we face."


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

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Richard Lugar, Joe Biden