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US Troops Will Remain in Iraq as Long as Needed, says Official - 2003-06-18

A senior U.S. official says American forces will remain in Iraq for as long as necessary to eliminate remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz appeared before a congressional panel and faced questions about resistance to the coalition occupation, and the controversial issue of weapons of mass destruction.

Amid reports of the latest American military deaths and injuries in Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz was faced straight off with a question from the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman Ike Skelton, a key critic of Bush administration Iraq planning, said he is concerned U.S. forces may become mired in a guerrilla conflict, and he called for careful planning. "Now that we have seen what the first two months of occupation have wrought," said Mr. Skelton, "we need to understand the planning that is going forward and the benchmarks for success that can be measured along the way."

Mr. Skelton pressed Mr. Wolfowitz about reports Sunni Muslims in Iraq are recruiting Sunnis from other countries to oppose the U.S.-led coalition occupation. Mr. Wolfowitz said it's not a surprise that "terrorist" elements will try to take advantage of the current situation.

"The victory in Iraq is a victory in the war on terrorism," said Mr. Wolfowitz. "It's not an accident I think that the terrorists in there are trying to de-stabilize the country and try to make us lose, but they are the ones who will lose."

However, the committee chairman, Republican Duncan Hunter, echoed concerns expressed by other lawmakers since the end of the Iraq war about the ability of the American military to meet threats not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. "While our military did remarkable work in defeating two terrorist regimes in short order, events in Afghanistan and Iraq make it clear that we have a ways to go in both countries," said Mr. Hunter.

Statements by Mr. Wolfowitz before the war about weapons of mass destruction have angered many lawmakers because of the inability so far of U.S. forces to find any such weapons in Iraq.

Congressman Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Mississippi, asked Mr. Wolfowitz why the administration relied so heavily on the weapons threat to justify the use of force. "Why didn't you leave it at those things we knew to be true?" he asked.

Defending the administration, Mr. Wolfowitz recalled the U.N. Security Council presentation by Secretary of State Colin Powell in February. "He talked about three things believed to be true. One, that he had chemical and biological weapons and was seeking nuclear ones, secondly that he supported terrorism, and third that he brutalized his own people," said Mr. Wolfowitz. "Those have always been part of the president's decision and the administration's argument, that the cost of inaction in our judgment, and its a judgment, it's a prediction about the future, the cost of inaction far outweighed the cost of action."

Mr. Wolfowitz was also pressed on conditions for American troops in Iraq, with one lawmaker reading a letter from a soldier complaining about the length of deployment. He said Washington is aware of the strains on soldiers forced to serve as peacekeepers, and still hopes for major contributions from U.S. allies.

Mr. Wolfowitz' appearance coincided with the start of closed-door hearings by the House and Senate Intelligence committees to review thousands of pages of intelligence documents provided by the CIA and other agencies. Senior administration officials are likely to be called to testify.