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Bush Iraq policy faces tough questions on Capitol Hill

Myers, Wolfowitz testify before Senate panel

Gen. Richard Myers and Paul Wolfowitz testify Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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Paul D. Wolfowitz
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration's policy in Iraq faced tough questioning Tuesday from lawmakers, some of whom expressed doubts about whether power could be transferred to the Iraqi people by June 30, as planned.

At one hearing, Democrats and Republicans queried Pentagon officials about extended troop deployments.

"I'm very concerned about what the impact is on these troops, their families and their employers," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

At another hearing, the administration was taken to task -- even by a top Republican -- for failing to communicate its plans to Congress and the American people.

"The administration must present a detailed plan to prove to Americans, Iraqis, and our allies that we have a strategy and that we are committed to making it work," Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in his opening statement.

No administration figures showed up at Lugar's hearing, a fact that drew a rebuke from the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

He said the administration is making an "arrogant mistake."

"The fact that they're not prepared to send a witness either means they are totally incompetent and they don't have anything to tell us -- which would constitute incompetence -- or they're refusing to allow us to fulfill our constitutional responsibility," said Biden, who supported the resolution that gave Bush the authority to go to war. But Biden has been sharply critical of the subsequent occupation.

Administration officials did show up at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, where they defended the decision to remove Iraq's Saddam Hussein from power.

"Saddam Hussein was more than just another bad guy," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. "He institutionalized and sanctioned brutality on a scale that is simply unimaginable to most Americans."

Wolfowitz's opening statement drew stinging criticism from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, who called it "somewhat disingenuous."

The issue, Kennedy asserted, wasn't whether Saddam was bad, but the reason the administration gave for going to war and its handling of Iraq since last year's invasion.

"There wasn't a word in this presentation about the weapons of mass destruction," Kennedy said, a point the administration had raised repeatedly in the buildup to the war. No such weapons have been found in Iraq.

Kennedy also focused on a diversion of funds to help pay for the war in Iraq.

That diversion is detailed in Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Bob Woodward's new book "Plan of Attack."

Woodward writes that up to $700 million was diverted in 2002 to help pay for planning the war in Iraq, but Wolfowitz disputed that.

Wolfowitz said a portion of those funds was initially applied to the "broader war on terrorism."

In October 2002, after Congress passed the resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, the Pentagon used about $800 million to begin planning for the eventual invasion, Wolfowitz said.

The hearings come at a time of increased violence against U.S. forces in Iraq, a point noted by virtually every lawmaker.

"The debate now is not over whether to withdraw troops," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, who supported the invasion of Iraq. "It's how many troops to add to secure the situation."U.S. support grows for more troops in Iraq

Despite the deaths of more than 100 U.S. troops in Iraq this month in battles with Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad, Fallujah and other cities, Wolfowitz said it is important to stick to the Bush administration's planned June 30 deadline to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government. But he said U.S. troops would remain in charge of security, and Iraqi security forces would remain under U.S. command.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, questioned whether June 30 was a realistic deadline.

"If the U.N. doesn't have the pieces together by June 30, the worst thing we could do is to attempt to restore sovereignty to leaders that appear to be our choices instead of the Iraqis," Levin said. "Even greater chaos and possibly civil war could result."

Wolfowitz acknowledged that American commanders were disappointed by the Iraqi security forces' performance during the recent surge in violence, but he said the country's police force and nascent army need "an Iraqi rallying point."

"They need to feel and to have their friends and relatives feel that they're fighting for Iraq, not for the Americans," he said. And he said Washington should not hang onto the label of "occupying power" any longer "if there was any way to avoid it."

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