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House panel erupts into bickering over Iraq

A House committee hearing on Iraq erupted in partisan bickering Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A House committee hearing on Iraq erupted in partisan bickering Friday, leaving top generals sitting silently as Democrats and Republicans argued about the handling of the prison abuse scandal and other issues.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Armed Services Committee that coalition forces were making steady progress toward handing political power back to the Iraqis on June 30.

“I think there is reason for great hope that the Iraqi people will take this and run with it,” he said.

But after about an hour and a half of questions on the transfer, the security situation and prison abuse issues, members of the committee got into political arguments at least four times.

In one long exchange, Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., said the committee should be doing a better job of looking into the prison abuse scandal so members would know how to explain it to their constituents.

The comment angered the committee’s Chairman, Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who opened the hearing by saying that the media “was absorbed” by the scandal and that he wanted to refocus on the war.

“I don’t know where you were,” Hunter said to Meek, adding that the committee had more hearings on the subject than on any other current issue.

House-Senate dispute
In an unusual move Tuesday, Hunter harshly criticized the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has held three public hearings and some private briefings to Hunter’s one public hearing and one public briefing.

Later, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., interrupted Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., as she complained to Myers that she was not getting enough information on the transfer of what she called “sovereignty lite.”

Tauscher chided Miller, saying she feared that hearings were becoming increasingly political.

The Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who had already told the committee that he had to leave early, quietly left during one such exchange. Myers and the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael Hagee, remained at the witness table listening to the disagreements without speaking.

Bush smoothes the waters
The three generals testified a day after President Bush sought to quell Republican fears over the beleaguered Iraq campaign.

The president made a rare visit Thursday to Capitol Hill to talk about Iraq, which is plagued by violence a year after the invasion and costing more than expected in U.S. lives and money.

More details of Iraqi prisoner abuse became public Friday as The Washington Post published more photographs and previously secret statements of prisoners at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

Referring to the new photos, Meek noted that they were being given wide exposure in the media. He said the abuse scandal was a “major, major issue” and said he hoped officials would get “to the top” of it, a reference to holding leaders and not just low-ranked military guards responsible.

Briefing anxious Republican lawmakers Thursday, Bush warned of more difficult days in Iraq even after the transfer of sovereignty.

Bush’s job-approval ratings have slumped to the lowest levels of his presidency, dragged down by the rising violence in Iraq. He sought to reassure lawmakers that despite the polls, he was eager for his re-election fight.