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US Officials Questioned on What Happens After War with Iraq - 2003-02-12

Bush administration officials Tuesday came under fire from U.S. lawmakers for not focusing enough attention on plans to rebuild Iraq, after a possible war against that country. U.S. officials testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not have many answers to lawmakers' questions about what happens in Iraq after a possible U.S.-led war against that country.

Although President Bush has said he would like to see a regime change in Baghdad, Defense Department Undersecretary Douglas Feith could not tell lawmakers how that would occur in the event U.S. led military action topples Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "Much of the issue you raised about how a transition would occur is not known right now," he said.

Mr. Feith and State Department Undersecretary Marc Grossman were at a loss to respond to Senators's questions about the duration of such a conflict or how long U.S. troops would be required to stay in Iraq to help rebuild that country. They also could not say how much international support the United States would get for the efforts.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, said he found the lack of administration answers in his words 'disturbing'. "Those decisions, I cannot fathom, when we are three weeks away or five weeks away from war possibly, you do not know the answer to yet, you have not made a decision yet."

The reaction from a Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, was even harsher. "Excuse me, Mr. Secretary, if you are having a problem now getting into it, what the hell kind of problem are going to have when we get in there?"

Mr. Feith and Mr. Grossman explained that uncertainties surrounding a possible conflict, including how many Iraqis defect and whether Saddam Hussein sabotages oil fields, make it difficult to predict timetables for war and reconstruction.

They also argued the outcome of U.N. action on a second Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq would better determine international support for any military action and the effort to rebuild the country. At the same time, Undersecretary Grossman sought to assure the committee the United States is committed to securing the stability of Iraq after any conflict. "We will demonstrate to the Iraqi people and to the world that the United States wants to liberate Iraq, not occupy Iraq, or control Iraqis or their economic resources," says Mr. Grossman.

Undersecretary Feith strongly rejected popular opinion in some European and Arab countries that the United States wants war with Iraq to seize its oil fields. "This confrontation is not and cannot possibly be a money-maker for the United States," he says. "Only someone ignorant of the easy-to-ascertain realities could think the United States could profit from such a war, even if we were to steal Iraq's oil, which we emphatically are not going to do."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans future hearings on the future of Iraq after possible war, including sessions to examine humanitarian aid and economic development.