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U.S. will let Iraqi forces deal with any civil war, Rumsfeld says

WASHINGTON—U.S. military commanders don't intend to allow a civil war in Iraq to occur, but if it happens, they'll let Iraqi security forces handle it, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.

"The plan is to prevent a civil war," Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee. "And to the extent that one were to occur, to have the—from a security standpoint—have the Iraqi security forces deal with it, to the extent that they're able to."

Rumsfeld testified before the committee along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top generals during hearings on President Bush's roughly $70 billion supplemental spending request to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the committee's ranking Democrat, questioned the mounting costs for both wars, which he said have already topped $369 billion. If Congress passes the latest spending request, costs for the Iraq war alone will top $320 billion, Byrd said.

Byrd asked Rumsfeld several times what the Pentagon would do if Iraq descends into full-scale civil war. "Will our troops hunker down and wait out the violence?" he asked. "If not, whose side would our troops be ordered to take in a civil war?"

Rumsfeld didn't answer the question directly. He acknowledged that there's been a "high level of tension ... sectarian tension and conflict" in Iraq since the Feb. 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, an important shrine for Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority. "But the country is not in a civil war at the present time by most experts' calculation," he said.

U.S. Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of U.S. Central Command, said he believes the sectarian violence is "controllable by Iraqi security forces and multinational forces."

"It's also my impression that we need to move quickly to a government of national unity," said Abizaid, the top U.S. military officer in the Middle East. "I regard the current problem as more of a problem of governance than security, but of course, they mutually affect one another."

Byrd persisted, however, asking Rumsfeld for assurances that if Congress approves the money, it wouldn't be used "to put our troops right in the middle of a full-blown civil war."

Rumsfeld said it was "not the intention" of U.S. military commanders to allow one to happen.

Republicans were largely supportive of the administration's request. Democrats remained skeptical. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., said the administration's strategy in Iraq "has been an amalgamation of misdirection and missteps."

Rice told the committee that the State Department's request for $4.2 billion includes money for security, economic and political programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as money for relief programs in Africa and Pakistan.

Bush is expected to ask Congress for $50 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan in early fiscal 2007. The Congressional Budget Office last year projected that military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could end up costing more than $800 billion by the end of the 2014 fiscal year.

In early 2003, Rumsfeld told Congress that the Iraq war would cost less than $50 billion. Other defense officials estimated the cost to be around $80 billion to $85 billion, assuming that U.S. troops would occupy the country for six months after the invasion.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Donald Rumsfeld

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