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Senators press Wolfowitz on Iraq

WASHINGTON—U.S. senators on Friday pressed top Bush administration officials to explain what the signs would be of a successful end to the American military presence in Iraq.

"How are the American people going to know when there's success?" Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., asked Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. "What are the things that they can watch on television, read in the newspaper and say, `Look, that's real progress. That's going to mean my son or daughter's going to come on home.'''

While the formal establishment of a new interim Iraqi government on Wednesday is being hailed as a milestone by the White House, the shift in sovereignty will be largely symbolic for about 140,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Army generals don't plan to reduce the number of soldiers in Iraq before February 2007, and officials have acknowledged recently that the United States is likely to maintain its military presence in the country for years to come.

"Is that what we really have got ourselves into here, that kind of force strength for that period of time?" wondered Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.

The sooner Iraqis take responsibility for maintaining security, the sooner U.S. forces can leave, Wolfowitz said. "In the long run, the key to success here is not American troops, it's Iraqi police, it's Iraqi national guard, it's Iraqi army, it's Iraqis ready to stand up and fight for their own country."

During the 3 {-hour hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a bipartisan group of lawmakers repeatedly challenged Wolfowitz, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to explain what went wrong with a military operation that was once predicted to be a "cakewalk."

Addressing Armitage, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pointed to a series of coordinated attacks in five Iraqi cities on Thursday that killed more than 100 people. "We are not where we had envisioned we would be after our significant military victory, right?"

"That's correct, senator," Armitage said.

But Armitage joined the other officials in maintaining that the setbacks weren't the result of an insufficient number of soldiers.

"Two things happened," Wolfowitz said. "Saddam and his people didn't quit on April 9th; they continued to fight. And we acquired this very burdensome label of being an occupying power."

While the Iraqis yearned for liberation, they resisted occupation, he said. "I think that's why what's going to happen on July 1st is so important, that they will be a free country. They will have their government. We will not be the occupiers; we will be supporting that government."

Recent polls conducted by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which will cease to exist on Wednesday, showed that 68 percent to 73 percent of Iraqis had a favorable opinion of the incoming government, which will be headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Still, if Middle Eastern history is a guide, the continued presence of American soldiers is likely to rankle. In 1952, a group of Egyptian officers that included future President Anwar Sadat forced the departure of British troops and of King Farouk, who headed the nominally independent Egyptian government.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he was worried about the damage from the shocking photographs of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. "Fifty-four percent of Iraqis believe that all Americans act like those who perpetrated the abuses at Abu Ghraib," Levin said. "We have a problem."

On Friday, the Army announced that Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones would take over as senior investigating general in charge of an ongoing probe into the Abu Ghraib abuses. Lt. Col. Gerard Healy said Jones would help Maj. Gen. George Fay investigate interrogation procedures that included threatening prisoners with dogs, forcing them to simulate sexual acts and depriving them of sleep for long periods of time.

Healy said Jones, a more senior general than Fay, would be able to question higher-ranking officers, such as Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was the top Army officer in Iraq when the abuses occurred.

On Thursday evening, the Senate confirmed Gen. George Casey, the Army vice chief of staff, as Sanchez's replacement.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ


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