President Bush's nominee to lead U.S. troops in Iraq says he is 'perplexed' that weapons of mass destruction have not been found there, but he expressed confidence that they will be. Lieutenant General John Abizaid made his comments at a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program was a key reason cited by the Bush administration for going to war in Iraq.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Abizaid expressed bewilderment over why such weapons have not been discovered.
"It is perplexing to me, Senator, that we have not found weapons of mass destruction when the evidence was so pervasive that it would exist," he said.
Some Democrats have accused the administration of manipulating U.S. intelligence to justify the war. But General Abizaid said he believes there was 'no distortion' of the intelligence, and said he is confident the weapons eventually will be found.
General Abizaid, a Lebanese-American who is expected to win swift confirmation as commander of U.S. Central Command, replacing General Tommy Franks, also said accounting for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is key to restoring security in the country.
"It is very important to confirm or deny whether Saddam Hussein is alive or dead. It is important because the fear factor is high, it is important because he was a brutal dictator who killed hundreds of thousands of his own people, and it is important for the Iraqi people to come to closure with this nightmare that he imposed upon them," he said.
U.S. and British troops are having increasingly deadly clashes with Iraqis. The general said the attacks are coming from forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, as well as criminal elements and Islamic militants from foreign countries.
But General Abizaid said there are enough coalition troops to quell the violence.
Later, two key senators who just returned from a brief trip to Baghdad offered a more critical assessment of the administration's handling of post-war Iraq.
Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee said U.S. officials underestimated the time and financial resources needed to stabilize post-war Iraq.
"There is a gigantic gap between expectation and reality in terms of what the administration, in my view, had anticipated," he said.
He said the administration did not take into account that there would be no functioning bureaucracy, army or police force in post-war Iraq, nor did it realize the extent of Saddam Hussein's neglect of the country's infrastructure.
Mr. Biden urged the administration to prepare the American people for a long commitment in Iraq until the country is self-governing.
It is an appeal echoed by Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who offered unusually harsh criticism of the administration's characterization of how long U.S. troops would be in Iraq.
"This idea that we will be in 'just as long as we need to and not a day more,' we have to get over that rhetoric," he said. "It is rubbish! We are going to be there a long time. We must reorganize our military to be there a long time."
Senators Lugar and Biden met with U.S. military officials, American troops and Iraqi representatives in Baghdad earlier this week.