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Iraq Remains Big Issue as Washington Returns to Business - 2003-08-31


It is back to business this week in Washington, with President George Bush back from a month-long vacation, and Congress about to follow. The big issue in the days and weeks ahead is sure to be Iraq.

The Sunday television news interview programs in the United States showed a tough debate lies ahead, as prominent members of Congress raised questions about the cost and duration of America's involvement in Iraq.

On Fox News Sunday, a senior member of the president's political party called on the White House to be more forthright about Iraq, spelling out the amount of money and number of troops needed to rebuild the country and get it on the right track.

Senator Richard Lugar, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said about $30 billion will be needed to run the country over the next five years in addition to ongoing military expenses of about $4 billion a month. He urged President Bush to send Congress a five-year budget for Iraqi operations. "In other words, give confidence to the Iraqis that we are there for the long run, give confidence to the rest of the world that we are prepared to deal on how we get money from them, troops from them, all the things we need from them, and work this problem systematically," he said.

The Indiana Republican said the task ahead will not be easy, noting that scholars warned his committee a long time ago that it would be difficult to hold Iraq's three major ethnic factions together: the Shiite and Sunni Muslims and the Kurds. "It is a very, very complex situation and what we have taken on is a daunting task that no one has taken on," he said.

There was even tougher talk on NBC's Meet the Press, where a discussion of Iraq mixed with the politics of the 2004 presidential election campaign. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination, said the Bush administration's policy is flawed. "We are in danger, if we do not do what we need to do in the next months, of having an enormous quagmire, of having a very serious challenge. These are enormously challenging moments," he said.

Senator Kerry said the Bush administration needs to work vigorously with the United Nations to get more foreign troops into Iraq. On ABC's This Week, Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, defended the president's stand. He said while the White House may consider U.N. troops under American command, the United States can only go so far. "The question is: what are the terms? If you are going to turn the decisions, the policies over to the countries that opposed our efforts in the first place, that is a mistake," he said.

But Senator Richard Durbin told This Week that a U.N. role is essential. The Illinois Democrat was one of the early critics of the decision to take military action against Iraq. He said people he talked to in his state during the month-long congressional break support the troops, but share some deep concerns. "People are still as loyal as they can be to the troops in the field and believe they are the best in the world. But they are genuinely concerned that the number of forces we have lost since the declaration of military victory is greater than lost during the course of the war," he said.

The White House has long maintained that the president declared an end to major combat operations in May, and did not declare victory. Mr. Bush has said he grieves for all the troops lost, but the U.S. will stay the course in Iraq. He has also said money will be found to get the job done, with an emergency spending request set to go to Capitol Hill not long after lawmakers return to Washington.