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Critical Report Stokes Iraq Debate in Congress


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is on an unannounced visit to Iraq. On the way there, he told reporters that it's still too early to discuss when U.S. troop strength can be significantly cut.

On Capital Hill yesterday, Congress continued its rancorous debate on Iraq. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Connecticut House Republican, Christopher Shays, faces a tough reelection bid, due to his support for the Iraq war. Still, as chair of a panel on national security, Shays defiantly held a hearing yesterday, titled, The Evolving National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

Representative CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (Republican, Connecticut): We've made mistakes in our efforts to secure and rebuild the country, but we are correcting those mistakes and progress is being made. Yes, the task is difficult, but that only reinforces the need to closely examine our roadmap for success.

WELNA: Shays added he did not fear losing the Iraq war in Iraq, but he did fear losing it on the home front.

Fellow Republican, Michael Turner, of Ohio, scolded Democratic colleagues for their questioning of the war.

Representative MICHAEL TURNER (Republican, Ohio): I regret that this issue, of Iraq, continues to be made a political issue. Something as simple as the war on terror, where we should have full and unanimous support from everyone, turns into a litany of political complaints and assaults on the administration.

WELNA: That infuriated the panel's top Democrat, Ohio's Dennis Kucinich. No weapons of mass destruction, he said, had been found in Iraq, nor was that nation ever involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): We're here talking about a national strategy for victory in Iraq. Who are we kidding? Come on, get real! Wake up America! This administration has lied to the people and they're selling it all over. And they're selling it here again to this committee? Balderdash!

WELNA: The panel had gathered to receive a new report from the government accountability office. Controller General, David Walker, speaking on a video link from Dallas, said his office had found serious shortcomings in the U.S. effort to prevail in Iraq.

Mr. DAVID WALKER (Controller General, United States Accountability Office): Although the number of Iraqi security forces is increasing, these forces still lack the logistical command and control, and intelligence capabilities, to operate independently.

WELNA: Walker said, direct, and indirect costs of the Iraq war now stand at about $3 billion a week. A Democrat on the panel, asked him why the GAO was unable to get any estimates from the Bush administration, on future costs of the war.

Mr. WALKER: I think its best that you try to ask the administration why they haven't done it. Clearly, I think there's a basis to come up with some estimates. There obviously could be variances, based upon how conditions develop, but the idea of not coming up with any longer-term estimates doesn't seem to be reasonable.

WELNA: That was too much for chairman Shays.

Rep. SHAYS: You have been extraordinarily negative, in my judgment, without pointing out any positives.

WELNA: Joining the fray, was Indiana Republican, Dan Burton.

Representative DAN BURTON (Republican, Indiana): I hope this is not an indication of a political vendetta.

Mr. WALKER: Absolutely not, Mr. Burton.

Rep. BURTON: Okay, well thank you.

Mr. WALKER: I straight - I call it as I see it. Not partisan, not ideological, you know. It's, you know, I think there are a lot of things that have gone well that we need to note, but there are some serious challenges, too.

Rep. SHAYS: Thank you very much.

Mr. WALKER: And we're trying to be balanced.

WELNA: A far rosier assessment of Iraq, came from Brigadier General Michael Jones, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General MICHAEL JONES (Brigadier Genera, United States Army, Joint Chiefs of Staff): On the security side, we've actually seen what I think is considerable progress here recently. We've actually seen an increase in the number of instances where the Iraqi security forces have confronted members of militias who were out, with weapons, and doing things that they're not allowed to do on the street.

WELNA: Jones did not mention the scores of Iraqis killed in sectarian violence, over the last few days. But Delaware Democratic Senator, Joseph Biden, who visited Iraq over the weekend, did. Iraq, he said at a news conference, faces a nascent civil war.

Senator JOSEPH BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): The militia has actually grown since the newly elected government was put in place. It has actually grown.

WELNA: Fellow Democrat, Jack Reed, who traveled with Biden, said the situation in Iraq remains critical, and the outcome, uncertain.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capital.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.