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No exit timeline for U.S. troops in Iraq

The Defense Department underestimated its enemy in the Iraq war, failing to predict how resilient former President Saddam Hussein and his government would be, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Defense Department underestimated its enemy in the Iraq war, failing to predict how resilient former President Saddam Hussein and his government would be, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Tuesday, warning that it was impossible to say how long a large U.S military force would have to stay in Iraq after power was handed over on June 30.

Wolfowitz, the No. 2 civilian at the Pentagon, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the latest hearing called by lawmakers worried about the Bush administration’s handling of the war and reconstruction and about its plans for the future.

Answering a question about miscalculations that had been made to date in the year-old campaign, Wolfowitz said: “I would say of all the things that were underestimated, the one that almost no one that I know of predicted ... was to properly estimate the resilience of the regime that had abused this country for 35 years.”

He said that included the failure “to properly estimate that Saddam Hussein would still be out there funding attacks on Americans until he was captured; that one of his principal deputies, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, would still be out there funding operations against us; that they would have hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts in neighboring countries to support those operations”; and that the old intelligence service would keep fighting.

Too tough on Baath party
Wolfowitz also said U.S. officials were wrong to impose so severe a policy of de-Baathification, the decision to purge members of Saddam’s Baath party from the government. The move threw thousands of teachers, military men and others out of work, many of whom had been required to join the party for employment, and was blamed for not only boosting joblessness but helping fuel the insurgency.

The ban on former party members in public-sector jobs was eased last month.

Wolfowitz also said that the next year to 18 months would be critical in Iraq because it would take that long to stand up fully trained and equipped Iraqi security forces and to elect a representative government.

Pressed by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., on how long substantial numbers of U.S. troops would have to remain, Wolfowitz said he could not predict.

Occupation forces have signed up 200,000 Iraqis for police, army, civil defense and other security jobs. Training has been slow, however. Insurgent violence is on the rise, and Iraqis remain far from capable of securing the country without the 160,000-member U.S.-led occupation forces.

Feingold asked whether the 135,000 Americans currently in Iraq would have to stay through 2005.

“We don’t know what it’ll be. We’ve had changes, as you know, month by month,” Wolfowitz said. “We have several different plans to be able to deal with the different levels that might be required.

“Our current level is higher than we had planned for this time this year.”

Officials had expected to have only 115,000 troops in Iraq by now but were forced in the spring to extend the tours of some 20,000 Americans because of unexpectedly high violence.

Before the war, some military planners estimated that all but 70,000 Americans could have been withdrawn by the end of 2003. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said since then that he never thought that number was plausible.

Rumsfeld briefs lawmakers
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld briefed House members in private Tuesday on a number of Iraq issues. The panel also was briefed by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated U.S. soldiers’ abuse of inmates in an Iraqi prison.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., criticized Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for not knowing precisely how U.S.-run prisons would be handled after the transfer of sovereignty.

Armitage said officials hoped to put them under Iraqi control “as rapidly as possible,” but he said he did not know how long that meant.

“I would have thought that this government would put some time into this, especially with what we’ve just been through the last two weeks,” Hagel said of the firestorm in the United States and abroad over publicized photos of abuse.

Armitage said the U.N. envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, was working hard to produce a list of 30 people who Iraqis could agree on to serve as president and prime minister in the interim government, which would serve until elections are held, as well as two vice presidents and the heads of 26 ministries.

He said he hoped the selection would be made by the end of this month or the first week of June.

Meanwhile, the defense authorization bill for the fiscal year starting in October was being debated on the Senate floor. And House members in the afternoon were offered a viewing of still-classified photos from the prisoner scandal, in which Taguba found numerous “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses” by military forces at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison complex near Baghdad. The viewing was mostly for those who did not see the pictures last week.