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US Lawmakers Spar Over Iraq War - 2003-09-23


As President Bush addressed the United Nations about Iraq, lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol were engaged in some partisan sparring over the administration's Iraq policy.

As Mr. Bush was defending his decision to go to war in Iraq and outlining progress toward stability and democratization in that country, Senate Democrats were challenging the administration's record on Iraq on the Senate floor.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont criticized what he described as the administration's "shifting statements" about the motives for the war and misleading predictions about the risks to U.S. troops and the costs of the U.S.- led occupation.

"The reality is that since the fall of Baghdad, nearly everything the White House and the Pentagon predicted about Iraq has turned out to be wrong," he said. "But you hardly know this by listening to officials in Washington who consistently give evasive and overly optimistic assessments."

Other lawmakers welcomed Mr. Bush's effort to get more countries involved in Iraq's reconstruction. But some Democrats criticized his refusal to give the United Nations a leading role in the physical and political rebuilding of the country.

Senator Ted Kennedy has been a long-time critic of administration policy in Iraq.

"In addressing the United Nations the president should have taken responsibility for his administration's mistakes in going to war without the broad support of the international community," said Senator Kennedy. "We need to involve the United Nations in a meaningful way in the transition in Iraq. Our policy cannot be all take and no give."

Senator Kennedy unleashed a storm of controversy last week when he said in an interview that the case for going to war in Iraq was "a fraud" crafted in Mr. Bush's home state of Texas to give Republicans a political boost.

President Bush has called the senator's comments "uncivil".

Senate Republicans, including Senator John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the senator's comments hurt the morale of U.S. troops and their families.

"Stop and think about the reaction of a young wife surrounded by small children, not knowing from day to day whether her husband will survive another day's engagement in Afghanistan or Iraq," said John Warner. "And they hear that this whole thing was a fraud perpetrated on this family, and it was made up in Texas. I find that very painful."

In the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas called on Senator Kennedy to apologize.

But Democrats responded that Republicans are making what they called "an orchestrated effort to attack those who criticize". Senator Tom Daschle is the Senate's top Democrat.

"It seems like anyone who comes to the floor to express concern or to express his or her views on Iraq is now the subject of attack, regardless of one's views," he said. "To impugn someone's patriotism, to question the motives, to challenge the integrity is wrong."

The congressional sparring comes as lawmakers are considering Mr. Bush's $87 billion request for U.S.operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most of the money is to be used to support U.S. troops, and there is little question that lawmakers will back that portion of the request. But $22 billion of the package for reconstruction in Iraq is more controversial, with many lawmakers wondering why other donor nations do not help pay such costs.

Senator Daschle raised the possibility that the Senate would not approve the funds for reconstruction unless the administration spelled out its plans for the reconstruction of Iraq and the length of the U.S.- led occupation.