In Washington, the Bush administration is coming under fire from congressional Democrats who say the United States lacks a plan for what happens in Iraq once the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority hands over power to the Iraqi people in late June.
President Bush stands firm on transferring power to the Iraqi people on June 30. But many congressional Democrats are expressing concern that the United States and its coalition partners have not adequately prepared Iraqis for the transition.
Senator Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, addressed the issue in a Washington speech Thursday.
?If the turnover occurs on time, but the situation remains the same in the eyes of the Iraqi people, including the perception of an ongoing U.S. occupation, we will only add fuel to the fire and the nationalist backlash that we have begun to see strains of already,? Mr. Biden said. ?But it is not the date, it is the plan that matters. If we can develop a coherent plan for turnover, if we can involve the world in that plan, if we can convince the Iraqi people that plan, if we can convince the Iraqi people that turnover will result in a change in their life circumstances, then the June 30th date will cease to matter.?
At a Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also addressed the issue, but placed more emphasis on the responsibility of the Iraqis in making the transition a success.
?I personally have always believed that having the responsibility for something forces people to either conduct themselves in a way that they take that responsibility or fail to take it, in which case they get replaced by somebody else. We are in a stage where we are just in the process of turning over that responsibility, and we will know a lot better how it is worked out in two months, after that responsibility gets passed over,? Mr. Rumsfeld said.
His comments may do little to pacify critics who say he and other U.S. officials have not adequately planned for the occupation of Iraq and the upcoming transfer of sovereignty.
One of his toughest critics, Congressman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, reiterated his call to the defense secretary to step down because he says too many questions about Iraq remain unanswered. He made his comments in a Washington speech.
?I suggest to you with all due respect, Mr. Secretary, when you have the responsibility of hundreds of thousands of lives in your hands, and you cannot tell Americans whether we are winning or losing a war, that you cannot tell Americans when we are going to get out of this 'slog,' that you cannot tell America whether we are creating more terrorists than we are killing, it is time for you to resign from office,? Cong. Rangel said.
Across town, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz defended the administration's handling of Iraq and underscored its commitment to fulfilling the mission.
?When sovereignty is handed over to Iraqis on July first, our engagement will change, but our commitment will not. We will stay in Iraq until our job is done, and not a day longer,? he said.
Senator Biden, in his speech, said that job may not be done for "years to come." He urged the administration to broaden the role of the international community, saying the Iraqis need "significant political, military and economic support."
?They need a political referee to mediate their disputes, foreign troops to prevent a civil war, and tens of billions more dollars than already have been spent on their reconstruction.?
Mr. Biden's Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold hearings on the future of Iraq in the coming weeks.