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Democrats Criticize Bush Administration's Preparations for Iraq Power Transfer - 2004-03-19


Senate Democrats who just returned from a trip to Iraq are concerned the U.S.-led administration there has not done enough to prepare the country for the hand-over of power at the end of June.

A five-member Senate delegation returned Thursday from a five-day trip to the Middle East, the focus of which was a visit to Iraq.

Senators expressed concern about the security and the political situation in the country ahead of the June 30 transfer of power to an interim government.

For example, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, says much more needs to be done to train Iraqi police.

"We went to the academy where they are being trained," he said. "But as of a few days ago, in terms of on-duty, fully-qualified Iraqi police in Baghdad, there are 2,300. The requirement is 75,000. It is going to take years to get that fully staffed."

Mr. Levin also said Iraq's Sunni community, which made up the ruling minority under deposed leader Saddam Hussein, should have a greater role in the planning for a future Iraq.

"The Sunni community has basically been left out in many ways unnecessarily," he said. "Thousands of Sunnis who were teachers and civil servants who were not ideologically part of the Baath party but who nonetheless were members in order to maintain their jobs have been excluded. We must find a way to involve the Sunni community more deeply."

Mr. Levin called for the adoption of a new U.N. Security Council resolution approving an interim Iraqi government so that the new government is not viewed as continuation of Western occupation.

He praised the work of the U.S. military. But, speaking a day after a deadly car bomb explosion in Baghdad, he said he is worried about the prospect of further violence in the country.

The other members of the delegation included Senator John Rockefellar of West Virginia, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, and Senators Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

While in Iraq, the delegation met with the top U.S. military commander, General John Abizaid, and the top U.S. civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, as well as with members of the Iraqi Governing Council.

The senators also visited Syria, Jordan, and Qatar, and made a brief stop in Brussels Thursday to meet with Nato officials.