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Bremer to Brief Lawmakers on Progress in Iraq - 2003-07-22

The U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer, briefs U.S. lawmakers at the Capitol Tuesday about progress toward stabilizing and rebuilding the country. Ambassador Bremer is expected to face tough questioning from Democrats who have made no secret of their concerns about the costs of the occupation in terms of American casualties and the burden on American taxpayers.

Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who is seeking his party's nomination for president next year, expressed some of those concerns on CBS's 'Face the Nation' Sunday. "We know we are continuing to suffer casualties. We know the head general for Central Command [General John Abizaid] has now begun to describe this as a guerrilla war, which indicates a greater degree of coordination of attacks," said Mr. Graham. "We know that U.S. troops who were scheduled to come home as early as this month have now had their deployment in Iraq extended further, and Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld has said it would cost twice as much for this occupation of Iraq than had originally been projected."

At his appearance on Capitol Hill, Ambassador Bremer is expected to emphasize the positive. In a preview of what he may say to lawmakers, he told television interviewers Sunday that progress has been made in recent months, including the establishment of an interim Governing Council representing the country's major ethnic and religious groups. But he added that much remains to be done, including forming a new Iraqi army and new civilian police force.

In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press", Ambassador Bremer urged patience. "We need to understand that this is a long-term process," he said. "The problem we face is difficult: That is reconstructing a country that really, for 35 years, was very badly managed, particularly on an economic basis, which suffered from politically tyranny."

After weeks of criticism of the U.S.-led occupation from Democrats, Republicans are becoming more vocal in defending the U.S. military operation in Iraq.

A number of Senate Republicans went to the Senate floor Monday to praise progress made by coalition forces. "Except for the central area, the small but important area encompassing Tikrit and Baghdad, security throughout the rest of Iraq has improved, and indeed more than 80 percent of the country is living in a more secure environment than they were before the war," said Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, another Democratic presidential candidate, called on the Bush administration to go to the United Nations to seek assistance for the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.

Speaking to reporters, Senator Kerry suggested pride was behind the administration's reluctance to seek such authority. He said he was angered to read recent news accounts that some administration officials might consider it humiliating to go to seek United Nations' help after bypassing the world body before going to war in Iraq.

The administration argues existing U.N. resolutions on Iraq give authority to any member state wanting to join the coalition. But several countries, France in particular, would like a U.N. mandate before sending troops.