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INSIDE POLITICS
Iraq Transition

Rumsfeld, Rice visit Iraq amid flagging support

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Gen. George Casey meets Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at Baghdad International Airport.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The visits to Baghdad Wednesday by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came amid growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, a rising U.S. death toll and calls for Rumsfeld's resignation.

According to Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff, Bush asked the defense secretary to make the trip at this particularly critical time in the Iraqi political process. Iraq Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki, who was chosen for the post last week, has 30 days to form a government and present it for approval to the new parliament.

Rumsfeld and Rice's visits coincide with planned legislation by three U.S. senators, who want to link the quick formation of an Iraqi government with continued U.S. military support. (Watch why Rumsfeld is making the trip -- 2:08)

A CNN poll released on Tuesday found that more than half -- or 55 percent -- of Americans surveyed believe the United States erred in sending troops to Iraq. The result found that sentiment did not change, despite efforts by President Bush and other administration officials to tout progress in Iraq during a series of speeches.

In Washington, Sen. Hillary Clinton asked the chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, to invite a group of retired generals who have called for Rumsfeld's resignation to testify about the handling of the Iraq war.

But late Tuesday, Warner issued a statement saying such a hearing "would require considerable preparation, a large number of witnesses in order for members to receive a balance of viewpoints, and at least one full day -- morning and afternoon -- to provide the witnesses a full and fair opportunity to express their views."

Such an effort would represent "a prodigious task," he said, and "I cannot superimpose hearings on [the committee's] schedule."

However, Warner said he supported the generals' right to freedom of speech but noted that "President Bush has, unequivocally, expressed his continuing support for Secretary Rumsfeld, and exercised his right to retain him in the Cabinet. As I have consistently stated, I support the President's right to make this decision."

"Our nation's debate on national security always must be given the highest priority; therefore I commit to making a decision on this request in the near future."

President Bush has stood by his defense secretary, saying the embattled Pentagon chief is doing a "fine job" despite the criticism.

But the calls have come from six retired generals, including former commanders of two Army divisions that saw combat in Iraq. They are: retired Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, who led the 82nd Airborne Division during its mission in Iraq; former U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Anthony Zinni; retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led the 1st Infantry Division in northern Iraq in 2004-2005; retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton; retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs; and retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold.

They accuse him of ignoring advice from senior officers about how to prosecute the war and sending too few troops into Iraq to manage the occupation after the March 2003 invasion.

At last count, the death toll of U.S. troops and military civilians stands at 2391.

According to the CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, opinion was split 39 percent to 35 percent between those who wanted Bush to fire Rumsfeld, and those who did not, respectively. Twenty-six percent said they were unsure. The CNN poll, which surveyed 1,012 adult Americans by phone last weekend, has a sampling margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

More people -- 43 percent -- thought Rumsfeld should resign, compared to those who didn't, at 35 percent, according to a question with a sampling error of 4.5 percentage points. And nearly half of those surveyed -- or 45 percent -- had an unfavorable opinion of him, compared with the 33 percent who had a favorable one. That question had a sampling error of 3 percentage points.

CNN's Ted Barrett and Auday Sadik contributed to this report.

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