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14 May 2004

Bush Officials Address Congressional Concerns about Iraqi Sovereignty

State's Grossman, Defense's Rodman and General Sharp testify May 13

By Phillip Kurata
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Senior members of the Bush administration have sought to allay fears among members of Congress about potential problems that could arise after the restoration of sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government on June 30.

Members of the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives probed State Department and Defense Department officials May 13 on the possibility that the Iraqi Interim Government might demand the departure of U.S. forces after sovereignty returns to Baghdad.

"[W]hat happens sometime during that interim period as the pressure grows, and political figures start to emerge who are going to stand for election, start posturing about getting rid of the U.S. army...?" asked Representative Gary Ackerman (Democrat from New York).

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman said Ackerman's question raised a hypothetical situation that was not likely to arise. In the negotiations for the Transitional Administrative Law, which will take effect June 30, Iraqis agreed that the interim government would have limitations on its authority, Grossman said.

"[T]his interim government, fully sovereign, will, by Iraqi design, have limitations on its authority ... because the long-term decisions are best left to an elected Iraqi government," Grossman said. The interim government will oversee the drafting and ratification of a permanent constitution and the election of a government under that constitution by December 31, 2005.

But Representative Bill Delahunt (Democrat from Massachusetts) said he was concerned by a recent poll that indicated the majority of Iraqis feel they would be safer if U.S. forces left Iraq.

"For the first time, a majority of Iraqis said they'd feel safer if the U.S. military were through immediately," Delahunt said. "[C]learly these leaders are going to be affected by public opinion. We've gone, again according to this report, from 17 percent of the Iraqi people who wanted us to leave to a majority."

Representative Brad Sherman (Democrat from California) said it would be politically advantageous for an ambitious Iraqi politician in the transitional period to show he can put restraints on the U.S. military.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman said political leaders in Iraq from various regions, religions and ethnic groups want the coalition forces to stay for the good of the future of the country.

"They are thinking seriously about the future of their country and the requirements of stability. They want this political process to go forward. And they want the coalition to be there as a backstop and as a safety net for a certain period," Rodman said.

Grossman said another public opinion poll of Iraqis done by Oxford Analytica showed a different result, that the vast majority of Iraqis feel that they are better off today than they were a year ago and that 70 percent said they think they'll be even better off in 2005.

Lieutenant General Walter Sharp, the director of Strategic Plans and Policy of the Joint Staff, said the coalition forces will be renamed the Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I) when the interim government assumes power. He said provisions for the MNF-I to remain in Iraq after June 30 have been incorporated into the Transitional Administrative Law.

Sharp said the Office of Security Transition, which will work with the MNF-I, will train and equip Iraqi security forces during the transition period to enable them to assume full responsibility for security at the earliest possible time.

"To date, more than 210,000 Iraqi citizens have taken positions in the various components of the Iraqi Security Force that are now contributing to the security and stability of Iraq," Sharp said. He said by the time of the sovereignty transfer, he expects the number of Iraqi security personnel to have risen to 230,000.

The hearing on the restoration of sovereignty took place amid the backdrop of congressional outrage at the abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of U.S. forces and growing congressional skepticism about whether the Bush administration's goal of establishing a foundation for peace, stability and democracy in Iraq could be achieved.

"It would be foolish, not to say ruinously arrogant, to believe that we can determine the future of Iraq," said committee chairman Henry Hyde (Republican from Illinois). "However convinced we may be of our faith to do so, we cannot reinvent their country for them."

Hyde said it was important for the United States to temper its determination to succeed with a "humility of limits." He warned that quickly establishing a modern, enlightened, and self-sustaining order in a country ruined by decades of dictatorship and deprivation and fragmented into a multiplicity of ancient identities and contending allegiances is all but unprecedented.

The ranking minority member of the committee, Tom Lantos (Democrat from California) said the United States must not falter in its resolve to achieve its goal.

"[S]uccess in Iraq is a bipartisan national interest. Not only is the credibility of the United States at stake in the region and around the globe, but an Iraq collapsing into chaos would be a heart of darkness in the Middle East," Lantos said.

Lantos recommended that NATO play a role in Iraq by assuring the security for the elections and that Turkey send forces to Afghanistan to free up U.S. troops for deployment in Iraq.

"Winning NATO support in Iraq is a supreme challenge that the administration simply cannot fail to meet, and it requires the demonstration of greater respect for our allies than the administration has shown to date," Lantos said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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