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US Official: Iraq Insurgency More Virulent Than Expected - 2004-09-24


A senior State Department Official has told Congress that the Bush administration underestimated the difficulties of post-war Iraq. Despite the problems, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says elections should go ahead in January so every Iraqi has the opportunity to vote. Some members of Congress are sharply questioning the way the administration is handling security in the run up to the election.

Deputy Secretary Armitage said the United States "miscalculated" the level of terrorism in Iraq, describing the insurgency as more "virulent" than expected.

While he downplayed the possibility of civil war in Iraq, quoted as one possible scenario in a recent CIA assessment, Mr. Armitage says an increase in attacks can be expected in the run-up to the elections.

"I do expect an increase in attacks," he said. "The intelligence will show that they are planning to get more virulent. They don't want the Iraqi government to become democratically-elected."

On Thursday, President Bush and visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said they expect the election to go ahead on schedule in January, despite the recent upsurge in violence.

Mr. Armitage told lawmakers he believes elections should be open to all citizens and he said he knew of no plans to hold partial elections that exclude parts of the country controlled by insurgents. His comments came one day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said elections should go ahead but may be impossible in some areas where the violence is too great.

The violence in Iraq has forced the administration to request authority from Congress to shift funding from reconstruction projects to security in the run up to the election.

Of about $18 billion designated by Congress for reconstruction in Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, only about $1 billion has been spent so far.

Congress must still approve an administration request to shift $3.5 billion intended for Iraqi water, electricity and other reconstruction needs to what the administration calls the predominant need at present, training Iraqi security forces and assisting preparations for elections.

Democrats are using the request, as well as a recent pessimistic CIA assessment quoted in media reports, as a basis for more criticism of how reconstruction has been handled.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey is senior Democrat on the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

"The situation in Iraq today is the result of a colossal and tragic miscalculation that has required constant policy changes as we have struggled to secure the country," she said. "It serves no one to continue to mis-lead Congress and the American people, on what is possible, the pace at which security can be restored, or the costs."

The funds transfer request is assured of approval because lawmakers recognize the need to support U.S. troops in Iraq.

However, even the Republican subcommittee chairman, Congressman Jim Kolbe, expressed concern saying while there is no alternative to reallocating money to security, Congress will keep a close eye on how funds are spent.

"We will scrutinize the new programs, with a purpose of getting tangible results," he said. "We will ask questions, we will probe, and we will not hesitate to call this or any other administration to account for failure to implement a reconstruction program that offers the only hope for long-term stability in Iraq."

This week, a senior U.S. military commander came as close as anyone has in recent months to saying that more troops may be needed in Iraq.

After briefings for lawmakers, General John Abizaid said he hopes most of these new forces will come from newly-trained Iraqi security forces, but said he could not "discount" more U.S. soldiers being required.

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