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Bush Administration Offers Congress Few Details on Iraq Transfer of Power Plans - 2004-05-18

Bush administration officials Tuesday offered a U.S. Senate panel few details about plans to transfer power from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to the Iraqi people next month, to the concern and frustration of lawmakers.

At a Senate foreign relations hearing, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz could not offer an estimate about how many U.S. troops would stay in Iraq after sovereignty is handed over to the Iraqis on June 30.

Mr. Wolfowitz responded to a question by Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, who cited news reports saying 135,000 troops would remain through the end of next year. ?It could be more, it could be less, senator,? he said.

Mr. Wolfowitz could not predict how long U.S. troops would remain in Iraq.

Lawmakers were hoping for precise details about the handover to reassure Americans that the administration has a strategy for Iraq and is committed to making it work.

Senator Feingold expressed his concerns. ?The American people, as you know, are extremely worried and concerned about what is happening in Iraq,? he said. ?I think I can honestly say it goes all the way across the political spectrum.?

The criticism also came from Republican lawmakers.

Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska chastised Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who also appeared before the panel and Mr. Wolfowitz for not knowing how U.S.-run prisons would be handled after the transfer of power.

Richard Armitage: ?The management, as I understand it, of the military prisons are both the United States military working with the Ministry of Justice and after the turnover it is my understanding is that as rapidly as possible put those into the hands of the Iraqis.?
Senator Chuck Hagel: ?As rapidly as possible. Do we have any idea what that means??
Richard Armitage: ?I do not have that sir.?
Senator Chuck Hagel: ?Does anybody??
Paul Wolfowitz: ?No, sir.?
Senator Chuck Hagel: ?It's a fairly significant issue, as we all know, and a little tension brought to this issue over the past two weeks. I would have thought this government would put some time into this, especially what we have been through the last few weeks.?

Photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees have outraged the world. A number of U.S. investigations have begun into the scandal.

Another Republican, Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, went so far as to question Mr. Wolfowitz as to whether the administration is being completely truthful about U.S. prospects in Iraq.

Senator George Voinovich: ?I am just real concerned. People ask me what is going to happen come July first, and I just tell them it is going to be a jump ball, we really are not sure what is going to happen. We hope there are some things that are going to happen. I just wonder if we are not being as candid as we should be with the American people about what we are into over there.?
Paul Wolfowitz: ?We are being candid, I think we are being candid. We had a plan that anticipated that I think we could proceed with an occupation regime for much longer than turned out the Iraqis would have patience for. We had a plan that assumed we would have basically more secure security conditions than we have encountered. In response to those both of those changes, we have considerably speeded up the transition to sovereignty.?

As Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Armitage testified before the senate panel, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met behind closed doors with members of the House Armed Services Committee to brief them on Iraq.