Senior U.S. officials have reiterated the U.S. intention to restore sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, but say the United States will remain in Iraq as long as it takes to ensure stability.
The statements by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage came during their appearance before the House Foreign Operations subcommittee.
Asked by the Republican committee chairman, Congressman Jim Kolbe, to clarify the role the United States will play after June 30, Mr. Wolfowitz spoke about the importance of the transition.
"We need to make sure the Iraqis see a positive vision connected with us, to maintain what General Abizaid calls consent, in competing for that large mass of the Iraqi people, who have no love of Saddam Hussein, no desire to be ruled by terrorists, or by former Saddam elements," he said. "It is very important that we keep that positive vision forward and part of it is to ensure them that they are going to have their own country back, they are going to be governing themselves."
But Congressman Kolbe expressed concerns over the Iraq situation. "That is a matter of worry, I think, to a lot of us, because I notice the most recent polling data that has been done and there is polling data coming from Iraq, shows a very dramatic slippage in the number of Iraqis that now believe we are there as liberators," he noted. "It's now 71 percent that believe we are now occupiers of the country. So, that positive vision is going to be a hard one to communicate, isn't it?"
Secretary Armitage said that the United States will have a continuing security role and addressed the question of "sovereignty."
"This government in Mr. Brahimi's [UN envoy on Iraq] concept, this caretaker government, should not involve itself in decisions which would take place over the long-term, that should be done by a democratically-elected government," he replied. "So, it will be a sovereign government, but there are limits."
The Foreign Operations Committee has jurisdiction over a significant portion of funds for Iraq, as well as Afghanistan.
The Bush administration did not include money for Iraq in its fiscal 2005 budget and has not yet sent Congress a "supplemental" request for Iraq operations.
Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey posed questions about the financial feasibily of continued operations.
"Do you have enough money to carry out operations in Iraq until the end of the calendar year?" she asked. "If not, how much of a shortfall do you anticipate and when will the administration request a supplemental for Iraq and how much will be requested in this supplemental?"
Majority Republicans are laying the legislative groundwork to ensure that an Iraq request can pass with as little trouble as possible, paying particular attention to deflecting Democratic criticisms, if the figures arrive before the November presidential election.
Democratic criticism on Iraq, amid continuing U.S. military deaths in Baghdad and Fallujah was evident in Thursday's hearing.
Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. took the opportunity to aim more criticism at Ahmed Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile opposition figure and member of the Iraqi Governing Council, blamed by many lawmakers for providing unreliable intelligence to the United States on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the war.
Congressman Jackson said that he intends to introduce an amendment during consideration of the foreign operations budget, to prohibit any continued U.S. government payments to Mr. Chalabi or his supporters in Iraq.